Weekly Update: 10/10/2021

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Environment, Public Safety, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation, Weekly Updates1 Comment on Weekly Update: 10/10/2021

Public Service Announcements

The delta variant is no joke! Fortunately, there are now free vaccine appointments available every day, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. The deadline to register to vote online is October 25. Voters can register and vote through 8 p.m. on Election Day at any of KCE’s Vote Center locations.

  2. Wednesday October 13, 6PM Aviation Town Hall with Rep. Adam Smith and 33rd District Sen. Karen Keiser and Rep. Tina Orwall!

  3. Wednesday October 13, 7PM On-Line Candidate Forum hosted by Yoshiko Grace Matsui and Jayme Quinn Wagner! (and to prep, you can watch last month’s Seattle Southside Chamber Of Commerce Candidate Forum!)

  4. he Utility Moratorium ended September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  5. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  6. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  7. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  8. We’re about to update our Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. Comment on any aspect of the system by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  9. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. Please read the Draft Master Plan and then my Marina Redevelopment Talking Points. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Send your questions and concerns to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  10. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  11. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  12. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  13. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  14. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting (Agenda)

Tuesday: North Hill Community Club Candidate’s Forum

Wednesday: Aviation Town Hall with Rep. Adam Smith and Rep. Tina Orwall

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association Meeting

Friday: Ultra-Fine Particulate Advisory Group

Last Week

Tuesday: State Legislative Redistricting Public Comment. Over 300 people signed up for this first of four sessions. Only a few were from our area.

Wednesday: Highline School Board Meeting. (Agenda/Comment)  I provided public comment in support of restoring the much loved MS/Design Engineering program at Pacific Middle School. I am shocked that the District cut the program as it provides wonderful opportunities for hands-on learning. Here is an example of a presentation they do annually before City Council as part of the Washington State Future Cities competition.

Thursday: Public Safety Meeting (Agenda) (Video) There was a discussion of the Draft Body Camera Policy. This is everything I love and hate about Des Moines politics. Councilmember Martinelli rightly brings up the idea that there are all these “may” instead of “will” throughout the document. Eg. “The officer may turn off the device when…” The officer may turn on the device when…” And Councilmember Bangs is just scrupulous in digging into the document and asking to see examples from other cities. Well done. Love it!

My problem… and the reason I did not vote to approve Body Cameras originally was that all this should have been resolved before we approved them. I have no problem with Body Cameras. I do have a problem with “We’ll fix it in the mix.”

We’ll Fix It In The Mix

When I was a musician (back in the Dark Ages), if you did a recording session you basically got it right the first time or you were never called again. There was an expectation that the recording session was about 95% finished product. The recording engineer might do a few tweaks but it was quite common for a recording I did to get on the air within a day or two.

Nowadays, you’ll hear about artists taking years to do a record and a lot of it comes down to the phrase “we’ll fix it in the mix.” As the recording technology improved, it became possible to completely re-shape any performance. Not just bad notes, I mean the entire performance. Even before  the Internet, the recording industry was falling apart because albums were taking too damned long.  And part of it was simply that musicians got out of the habit of “play it right the first time”.

In the case of Body Cameras, they’ve been on the horizon for a couple of years. It’s great that Councilmember Martinelli pushed for them, but they would’ve shown up here eventually either way. We could afford to be patient. Now when the Council approved the plan the initial  price was estimated at $140,000. After the initial ‘beta’ it suddenly became $190,000. Now as of September 16 it’s $250,000. And we also approved it without having the policy that’s being debated now. (And another that is not being debated involving how long the police can hold onto recordings.) But regardless, we’re going live January 1, 2022. That go live date puts pressure on everyone to “get ‘er done.”

I wish we could simply do it right before voting for things because in the end it saves time and money. And if you’re looking for another practical example, think about our Marina Paid Parking. Regardless of whether you love it or hate it, even though the discussion got dragged out over years, the actual implementation was super-hasty. And the resulting implementation was, well, you know… (We’re supposedly looking for another vendor and will come back to it in 2022.)

Thursday:  City Council Meeting (Agenda) (Video) The Budget Presentation turned out to be about sixty seconds. The City Manager announced that he would be delivering the budget the next day. Here it is. This is a pattern. Deliver the document after the meeting to shorten the decision making window. How do I know it’s a pattern? Here’s how.  At our ‘Budget Retreat’ (which was back in August) we received no numbers–it was all anecdotal. We spent our ARPA money on September 16 with no context as to the current state of the City’s finance. If I sound snippy? GOOD.

Stay In Your Lane

During my comment period, I went off into one of my rambles about Clair Patterson that evoke much eye rolling. The general notion being, even among people who voted for me that, “Hey dude, we need more < fill in the blank>, OK? Please just focus on that.” Got it.

And my (somewhat defensive) reply is, if you look across the board on the number of practical things I work on every week, I think you’d be surprised. But look, there are only so many hours in the week. And a bunch of people are engaged on various ‘traditional’ issues. That’s why there are seven of us. Each of us has issues they like to tackle and I let them do it. They do just fine without me. 😀

But nobody else works the issues I do. They just don’t. Or rather, they work them in the conventional ways that do not work. (Sorry, guys.) They stay in their lane as the saying goes.

Many of our government institutions go back 100 years. Counties. Cities. School Boards. The Port Of Seattle. They were designed for a completely different world. You don’t have to be some management genius to see that a lot of these systems no longer work very well in today’s world. For example, the reason we get screwed over and over by the airport is because, if you follow the rules, they lead to you getting screwed. There is no ‘lane’ that leads to a city like Des Moines having good results on airport issues.

Somebody has to do something different.

Clair Patterson

When anyone tries to describe Clair Patterson, they tend to use words like ‘oddball’ and ‘crank’. That’s the easy part. He seemed to be OCD in the way he scrubbed his lab, the way he punished his students for lapses in cleanliness and the absolutely insane lengths he went to collect data. But now everyone cleans their labs to that standard and everyone understands that climbing to the top of mountains and going into submarines was the only way to collect the data he needed. People only remember the cranky and forget that he was just doing what was needed to get the job done.

The wonderfulness of his accomplishments are harder to describe. Basically? He figured out a way to collect data on the levels of lead in the environment over time. (Because I’m old, I’m hearing Archie Bunker right now saying, “Whoop De Doo, Edith.”)

Since the Romans, people had known that lead was bad for you. People used to die all the time from lead poisoning–without even knowing it. We now know that people on the entire planet were at least 5 points lower on the IQ scale as a direct result of constant exposure to lead. We just didn’t know it until Clair Patterson came along.

As far back as the 1800’s chemists realized that lead does for most products what salt does for food–it makes pretty much every modern product somehow better. So very quickly it ended up being used in everything from paint to plastics to gasoline.

By the 1950’s so much lead had built up in the world that you could not measure it accurately because it was everywhere from the tallest mountains down into the oceans! The reason he went to the tops of mountains and down in submarines is because those were the only places on the entire planet where he could measure what lead levels were like 100 years ago. He needed to establish a starting point–what life was like before human beings started pumping lead into everything.

It took him decades to figure out how to determine how much lead people (especially kids) were being exposed to. Because without knowing that, you could never determine the effects of lead.

Unfortunately, he could never get money to do that on his own. His idea that we weren’t measuring lead accurately seemed so nutty nobody would give him money, so he was always inventing cockamamie side-projects which just happened to allow him a chance to do what he really wanted to do: measure lead. 😀 And since lead was so important to commerce, there was no great desire on the part of any business to find out about any possible health problems.

Though we didn’t know it at the time, lead was so useful to commerce that it was worth five IQ points and thousands of deaths every year. That was the cost/benefit trade-off.

When Dr. Patterson’s work was finally recognised, it made the National Environment Protection Act (NEPA) possible. That was how NEPA was originally sold : the “get the lead out bill”. Removing lead was its driving purpose because he proved that it was the single worst environmental contaminant in human history. And the fact that you don’t know any of this, shows how well it worked. But in 1973 there was so much lead everywhere that the idea of removing itfrom the world was considered almost impossible. (It’s worth reminding people who are concerned about Climate Change that we have done many ‘impossible’ things before.)

No Data. No problem.

There is this maxim in government, “No data. No problem.” If you don’t have legit data, you can’t get any legislation passed. No matter how much people cry and scream, without accurate data, you will not get anything addressed, from a traffic intersection to removing lead from the environment.

Currently there is no good system in place for managing aviation emissions. And that is because there is no good system in place for measuring aviation emissions.

See where I’m going with this now?

Now here’s the maddening part: There is currently no agency you can go to and say, “We need a system for measuring aviation emissions around Sea-Tac Airport”. And the reason there is no agency like that is because… wait for it…

There is no local agency that has the authority to regulate aviation emissions.

Get it?

So.. if you want to know about aviation emissions, you have to do it yourself. You cannot “stay in your lane.”

Somebody has to start measuring aviation emissions, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, every year, just as we now do for water. And I don’t care if that’s in my lane or not. We should’ve started decades ago, but better late than never. It needs to happen and if you wait for Congress or the FAA, you’re gonna be waiting for a mighty long time.

Ongoing concerns

Residents have been complaining about an increased incidence of various types of cancers and other health effects around Sea-Tac Airport since the 70’s. Citizen groups even self-funded studies to get to the cause. But the lack of ongoing data collection made it impossible to determine what was going on. A single one-off study just couldn’t do it.

Currently, all we know is this: Every time we do another one-off study, we find more correlations between certain health problems and aviation. These are not causalities, but they are suspicious. So the goal should be to do ongoing measurements, starting now.

Clair Patterson performed truly back-breaking work in order to gain historical evidence of lead exposure from the past to the present. You cannot do that with aviation emissions. You have to start doing ongoing data collection and move forward in order to see the patterns. And it just seems ridiculous to me that main reason we haven’t mustered the will to do something so basic to scientific inquiry is because there are no current regulations. By that standard, Clair Patterson would never have done what he did. Because when he got started the prevailing wisdom was, “Well, since there’s no law regulating lead, I guess there’s no need to measure it. Sure glad I didn’t waste my time on that!”

A gift to the future

The point is this: Ongoing air quality monitoring isn’t about today. It’s a gift to the future. If we start today, we give scientists and electeds the tools they need five years from now. But every year we delay measuring, just puts off any possibility of regulation. Every year we delay puts off research on public health one more year. Every year we delay gives the airline industry one more year to get away with not paying what they owe.

Summary

If you don’t see me at a ribbon cutting or speaking up about some more ‘normal’ City Council issue, don’t think I don’t care about it. I know you care about public safety. I know you care about after school events. And parks. And roads. Me too.

But somebody also has to work long game issues like air quality monitoring. I’ve only got so much space every week to talk about the stuff I do and I’d rather use that time to talk about things other people do not.

And if you want to give me a call some time to discuss boat launches or police or permits or chicken ordinances? Pretty much any day of the week I’m here at 10:00AM. 🙂

Weekly Update: 10/03/2021

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Environment, Public Safety, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation, Weekly Updates3 Comments on Weekly Update: 10/03/2021

Public Service Announcements

The delta variant is no joke! Fortunately, there are now free vaccine appointments available every day, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. The deadline to register to vote online is October 25. Voters can register and vote through 8 p.m. on Election Day at any of KCE’s Vote Center locations.

  2. Wednesday October 13, 6PM Aviation Town Hall with Rep. Adam Smith and 33rd District Sen. Karen Keiser and Rep. Tina Orwall!

  3. Wednesday October 13, 7PM On-Line Candidate Forum hosted by Yoshiko Grace Matsui and Jayme Quinn Wagner! (and to prep, you can watch last month’s Seattle Southside Chamber Of Commerce Candidate Forum!)

  4. he Utility Moratorium ended September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  5. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  6. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  7. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  8. We’re about to update our Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. Comment on any aspect of the system by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  9. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. Please read the Draft Master Plan and then my Marina Redevelopment Talking Points. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Send your questions and concerns to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  10. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  11. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  12. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  13. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  14. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Tuesday: State Legislative Redistricting Public Comment.

Wednesday: Highline School Board Meeting. (Agenda/Comment) Or call (206) 631-3070 I will be providing public comment in order to restore the much loved MS/Design Engineering program at Pacific Middle School. Here is an example of a presentation they do annually before City Council as part of the Washington State Future Cities competition.

Thursday: Public Safety Meeting (Agenda) The key items will be a discussion of the Body Camera Policy and the recent shooting on Pacific Highway.

Thursday:  City Council Meeting (Agenda) This will be the first presentation of our 2022 Budget. It’s October and the City Council has received almost no financial information about the health of the City. At our ‘Budget Retreat’ (which was back in August) we received no numbers–it was all anecdotal. We spent our ARPA money at the last meeting with no context as to the current state of the City’s finance. If I sound snippy? GOOD.

Physics For Poets

Back in the day, us ‘science’ students used to call this approach “Physics For Poets”. At least where I went to university, there were always intro-level classes that attempted to explain things like Special Relativity or Calculus but without, you know, numbers? And they were highly popular with students of the Humanities. And in fact, these philosophy and anthropology majors would try to tell us that we were all haughty jerks because ‘all that math’ really wasn’t necessary. They understood things just fine. Why were we always making things so difficult. And we’d be like, “No, you don’t get it. The numbers are the real thing. All those entertaining anecdotes are useless in solving real world problems.” But they would go away very satisfied and continue to think we were jerks who would never get a date. Which was true. But regardless, the numbers really are the thing. Because without them, you can’t really know what is going on.

If you wish to provide oral public comment please complete the council comment form

Saturday: Sonju Park Cleanup

Saturday: 11:00AM McSorley Park Salmon Counting Training

Last Week

Tuesday: Police Advisory Committee. No, Hell has not frozen over. Out of the blue, Chief Thomas called me with an invite. I have no idea if that was a one-off or not. But apparently this was a ‘special’ meeting concerning the recent shooting at La Familia. There were several interesting things for me which I won’t comment on now.

But for what it’s worth, there were no ‘revelations’ regarding that tragic event. And from what I can tell, that incident isn’t really about ‘police’. By the time the police were called, the shooting was over. (Think about that for a minute.) The real problem started long before that particular event.

Thursday: Transportation Committee (Video)  Mayor Pina was absent, but Deputy Mayor Mahoney and I soldiered on with a review of the Capital Improvements Projects. Quick review: We have a Transportation Improvements Plan (TIP) and then a Capital Improvements Plan (CIP). The TIP is aspirational. It lists all the identified needs in order of priority. But the CIP contains projects we’ve actually budgeted for–so those are real; we’re doing them. Sometimes, I ask rhetorical questions, in the vain hope that someone might be watching and take note. In this case, I kept homping on about how unpredictable these projects can. One factor is that we have so many partners–utility companies, etc. And coordinating their schedules and tasks is hard. Another is the fact that underground maps are so unreliable. It’s fascinating (or annoying) to me that with any project, they start digging and always find something unexpected.

A couple of quick notes:

  • The ‘Downtown Alley Project’ (between 225th and 227th) is supposedly getting paved by November. It will be tight to beat the cold weather. The above issues are key factors in why it takes forever to do any of that work. And it’s going to end up being a simple repave.
  • When it is rebuilt, the 216th Bridge over I-5 will be reduced to one lane for about a year. It will not shut down completely as the rumour goes.
  • The earlier drawings I showed you for the Redondo Fishing Pier are off the table. The Puyallup Tribe has insisted on a fully grated walkway (which lets more light down to the fish). No examples yet.

Thursday: Environment Committee (Video) Again, always good to review, our “Environment Committee” is really a “Storm Water Utility”. It should be an ‘environment’ committee, but for now, it is what it is. We had an update from our consultants on a couple of things:

  • There are new rules from Ecology that ask businesses to do a better job of waste water management. The problem has always been–how to do it and how hard to lean on businesses to do it. Our small businesses are burdened with ‘stuff to do’, but this has got to be taken more seriously.
  • The State is now mandating “inter-disciplinary” requirements in planning. This relates to my proposal to hire an Environmental Strategist. The State now recognises that all departments need to coordinate on every project so that environmental goals are considered at every stage. Apparently there is some formal process–which may just mean more paperwork. But the goal is absolutely correct. If we want to maintain tree cover, improve water quality, etc., do better on airport issues, those considerations have to become a meaningful part of every stage of every project–and not just some afterthought. More below.
  • The bulk of the meeting was spent discussing storm water rates. The consultants recommended that we stretch our 2021-2026 projects out to 2029, take $100k out of our General Fund every year, and raise your rates an average of $.75 a month. I reluctantly went along with that because Councilmember Bangs was absent and it woulda been a needless argument with the Mayor.

Four notes from two meetings

When I decided to run I spoke with some people I know on other Councils and they asked me “What do you want to do?” And I’m like, “I want to bring some oversight to the Council, baby!” And of course they laughed in my face. Because this is not As well they should have. What I was told was that the only way that works is if you can somehow get several people on the Council at the same time who also care. Which is hard. If you go it alone basically everyone will resent you because this is not academia. City Council incentivises for a lack of oversight.

But with all that self-pity, this is #328 on my list of things I wish more CMs took more of an interest in. Routine oversight.

A tale of two projects

Moving onto that Downtown Alley Project. Remember when the City sold the idea of transforming that road into a “Post Alley”? You know, to “drive economic development”? Of course you don’t; that’s ancient history (2017).  😀 But, like everything else, we sell stuff like that hard. Your City Council took multiple tours of Seattle to see ‘possibilities’. We were serious about it.

As of 2021, we’ve budgeted $540,000 dollars for that project, mostly to “underground” all the utilities. Undergrounding costs a fortune and it was not even a requirement for that project. But remember we’re doing it to “drive economic development.” And that is a bit confusing because, again, so far it’s just a simple repave in a commercial alley. The only foreseeable benefit (beyond an absence of potholes in an alley) will be unobstructed views for tenants above the new theatre. Could just be a coincidence, but I hope they appreciate it.

Now, let’s take a look at the 24th Avenue Schools project. That project did mandate undergrounding. In fact, according to our municipal code, all new road projects like that must be undergrounded. But you’ll be pleased to know that your City Council (well, most of us) voted to override that requirement in order to save the taxpayers $300,000. I hope you appreciate it.

Storm Water Rates and the price of a  latte

As I said, we discussed your storm water rates at the Environment Committee Meeting. But the consultants actually presented two rate plans.

  • The recommended plan takes the critical projects originally on the board for 2021-2026, stretches them out to 2029, takes $100k out of our General Fund every year and raises your rates an average of $.75 a month.
  • Then there is a not recommended plan, which fully funds the critical projects on the board for 2021-2026, takes no money from the General Fund, and raises your rates an average of $2.00 a month. Again, that is the not recommended plan.

From one point of view, those consultants are some swell guys. They’re keeping your taxes low. Thank you consultant guys!

From another point of view, we’re taking $900,000 from our General Fund to save homeowners an average of $15 a year. Which is $1.25 a month. We’re also betting that we won’t have any more Woodmont Landslides (price tag $251,000) between 2027 and 2029.

Annexation City

The motto for Des Moines could well be “Annexation City” We started as eighteen blocks in 1959 and just kept adding neighbourhoods every few years until we kinda ran out of space in 1996. (Ironically, the one annexation opportunity we avoided? SeaTac Airport. No kidding. The one actual moneymaker coulda been ours. But that’s a rant for another day.)

Anyhoo, all kidding aside, various neighbourhoods did not vote to become part of our fair city out of some deep passion for “Des Moines”. Most people just wanted better services for less money. King County storm water rates are always high because they know that the pipes are old and they budgeted for replacing them. So one of the things people voted for was to avoid paying for that. King County was only too happy to pass the bill onto us. But now that bill is coming due and if you look at the meeting video, our rates are now approaching King County. How about that.

Enterprise Fund

Now, as a quick review we finance Storm Water, like the Marina, as an Enterprise Fund–meaning that it is supposed to be self-funded. The whole point of an Enterprise Fund is to pay for itself. Using the The General Fund defeats the whole purpose for reasons we’ll get to in two paragraphs.

But you don’t care about that. You want your taxes low. Same reason you wanted to be annexed. OK, setting aside all that “good government” crap, I hear you. But I gotta say, as benefits go that’s might picayune. A buck twenty five a month? As the Mayor rightly pointed out. It’s less than a half a latté. A month. Not even a good latté.

For the price of a latté

As the Mayor rightly pointed out. It’s less than a half a latté. A month. Not even a good latté.  This reminds me of all those charity ads you see on TV. “For the price of a latté you could help a child in need.” Absolutely true. You could help a child in need right here in Des Moines.

$900k is real money  that could be spent on something else. It’s a police officer. A road project. A park. At our last Spending Fiasco (aka the September 16th City Council Meeting) we voted to spend $100k of that juicy one-time ARPA money to increase our Human Services budget which has never gotten above $175,000 a year. What a bunch of great humanitarians we are ! This $900k would double that bonus. And for nine years.

Finally, at the risk of being Mr. Crankypants… is it just me, or do those “100 year events” now seem to happen every third Tuesday? I have no way of knowing when the next land slide happens but I’m not certain it’s going to wait for 2029.

Oversight and why I hate everybody who doesn’t get it

Dr. King used to say, and it never gets old, “Budgets are moral documents”. Meaning that people can say whatever they want, but they are what they are willing to spend money on.

When it comes to the Downtown Alley, we chose to spend a substantial and totally optional amount of money on a project which does not meet the stated goal. At the same time, we chose to avoid following our own ordinance when it came to providing the same benefit to school children. We worked really hard to do both things. That is who we really are.

(Also: You know those tours of Seattle I mentioned? That is the reason a fresh batch of stomach acid moves up into my throat every time I hear about another “Successful step towards a ferry!” It’s a pattern, folks. People here just lose their minds at every “economic development opportunity” because no one steps up to say, “Wait, haven’t I seen this movie before?”)

Same thing with the storm water. When it’s City money? We spend $900k in order to save ratepayers $1.25 a month. The only reason we were so generous in spending that ARPA money on human services is because it was someone else’s money.

You feel me on this? People can say whatever they want. But they are what they spend money on. And we value your $1.25 a month, dear rate payer, enough to kick the can down the road three years on critical infrastructure. We value the views from those new apartments more than school children.

The OG conservative…

Those choices seem wasteful and do not accord with my values. But the only reason I can comment is because I am aware that there are reasonable choices. Here are specific and better ways to spend the money we already have. That’s OG conservative, baby.

But I do not want to sound like I am singling out my current colleagues. Very few of our Councilmembers ever cared about oversight. Currently, our books are balanced and our reserve is healthy. Previous Councils often did not do that. You can do nothing if you don’t have any money.

What is absolutely maddening to me is when the public (and my colleagues) say, “We should spend more on whatever” while having absolutely no clue how to pay for it. People always assume that we can just “shift” money from “extravagant salaries” or some “non-essential program” and presto-change-o! Ten police officers! or A Community Center! or whatever magically appears out of thin air. We can’t. There is no frickin’ money. And people who say there is are “Physics For Poets”. They either do not understand the numbers or are just shilling for some candidate. Either way,  I pray every night that they would stop doing it.

Grants and fish food

For years I’ve heard candidates go on about “We need more grants!” I did it myself because… well… we kinda do, but for another reason. But in general, grants are like sprinkling fish food into the tank. All the little fishies are competing for the same sprinkles. The only way to get off that treadmill is by either a) getting more structural revenue or b) doing better oversight.

Why?

We never do oversight. We always take the consultant or staff recommendation. It’s to the point that they get annoyed if anyone even suggests doing otherwise. We’ve all trained one another not to do it.

Traditionally, councilmembers avoid oversight because:

  • They actually do agree with the recommended policy
  • They fear offending the very people they’re supposed to be overseeing
  • They operate on blind trust (hey, it’s not my money.)
  • They don’t know what questions to ask (awkward)

I have no idea what is in anyone’s heart. Maybe all my colleagues do agree with every recommendation. Fine.

But if you want to do something different? You have to have the ability to recognise the alternatives and the will to push back. There’s never any need to be mean. But you  can’t save money using some Ninja charm schools skills, either..

Practicality…

The reason I think more people don’t care about oversight is, ironically, because they somehow associate the term with ‘corruption’. I think people cynically assume, to one degree or another “the fix is in” and “You can’t fight City Hall.” Like dandruff… not life-threatening, but sort of inevitable.

The funny thing is that, in my opinion, oversight is mostly not about that at all. It’s mainly about letting you do more with what you have. I identified $1,200,000 in two one hour meetings that I’m pretty sure I could convince voters could be spent better.

You know how hard it is to get $1,200,000 in grants these days? To paraphrase the immortal words of Carol Burnett in describing childbirth:

Getting $1,200,000 in grants is like taking your lower lip and forcing it over your head.

But I’m telling ya’, dear reader. Swear to God. There are opportunities like this at almost every meeting.

Summary

The law says that a councilmember has two essential functions: legislation and oversight. We almost never talk about oversight. I went through all this to demonstrate that oversight not only has practical value, it probably has far more practical value than legislation because, frankly, councilmembers do not do much routine ‘legislating’. Our biggest opportunities are often in figuring out ways to save money, not spend it.

My point is that at our last Spending Fiasco nobody else pushed back. And we should have because, as my old accounting prof told me way back in 1372,

When you misspend a dollar, you’re actually losing two dollars: the dollar you burned and the dollar you could have spent on something useful.

Spending money is a lot more fun for everyone–especially when it’s not your money. And oversight is work. So recognise that it’s up to you to demand that of candidates and electeds. Because the default position is always going to be to spend, not necessarily spend well.

But if you’ve ever been one of those people who wondered “Why is Des Moines the way it is?” That is the reason.

Frankly, it’s a lot to expect of part time legislators in a small town. But that’s your job. You, dear voter, have to expect better.

My six ARPA proposals

Posted on Categories Airport, Economic Development, Marina, Neighborhoods, Transportation1 Comment on My six ARPA proposals

Update 08/31/21: Since this original post, I have added two other proposals for a total of six. I’ve added them below.

As I said in the Christmas in July post on spending our $9M in stimulus money, after the July 22 City Council Meeting, Councilmembers were given an application by the City Manager to fill out potential programs for research.

As I wrote last Sunday, I’ve had lots of suggestions from very informed citizens. But I’ve had no blazing insights as to which ideas to put forward.

So far, I have submitted four ideas. I could’ve submitted dozens. What I submitted have the following shared features:

  • I think I know enough about the idea to know if it might work
  • I think the City has the ability to execute it’s part with excellence
  • Each is strategic, as opposed to short term relief
  • Each would improve the quality of life for most or all residents
  • Each would lead to ongoing sustainable economic benefit to the City

And just to be clear: based on everything I have learned thus far, the primary goal I have is: the City Of Des Moines needs more money. You can’t do anything the public wants if you don’t have the money.

Consolation prize

A few words as to why I did not prioritize other stuff.

First off, I had a slew of questions about almost every line item on the City Manager’s draft proposal. It’s exactly the kind of detail-free thing that drives me nuts. It’s like designed to mess with me. So as I said last Sunday, more than anything else, I would like to slow down the entire train. We have plenty of time to decide most (not all) of these things.

Second, all the suggestions I have received are wonderful. I’m not kidding. Some of these proposals are so detailed, I was thinking, “Man if I was still working, I’d want that person’s résumé” If it were appropriate, I’d share a few of your suggestions just to show you how thoughtful and civic-minded so many of our residents really are. And that’s the problem: there are so many equivalently wonderful ideas I have no way of deeming one better than the other. So I took the coward’s way out. 😀

Third–every corporation has core competencies; things it excels at and things it finds more challenging. For example, my experiences with EATS and GRO were not exactly great, so I’m not as jazzed to repeat those, unless I get assurances that they’ll be handled differently in REV 2.0.

Fourth–with regard to anything ‘human servicesy’, again, I just found a lot of ittoo vague. I’m happy to provide funding for programs that have demonstrable need and a proven track record. However, I’m very reluctant to talk about any new program that we might have to build from scratch (see EATS and GRO.) Again, you’d have to show me that they can be executed well. If that sounds like micro-managing? Sorry. I just can’t support a blank check made out to ‘Mental Health’ or whatever. This has nothing to do with my support for the issue. *I just want evidence.

And parenthetically–I have to point out something I’ve been grousing about since day one: the fact that all our Advisory Committees (especially our Human Services Advisory Committee–which is where the majority of our social services spending is generated) is something of a black box to me. The Council gets only a single annual report during budgeting season. I’ve asked for information and been denied. If Council could get more routine information about the programs they fund–I’d be thrilled to be more supportive. I just refuse to spend money without details. Which makes me heartless, of course. And cold. Probably cruel to small animals as well.

The proposals

And with all that build -up:

#1 ENVIRONMENTAL Strategist

As most of you know “the airport” was and is my issue. The Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP) is here. People are often asking me “OK, what’s the answer?” This proposal is a big part of it. I would like the City to create a full-time position dedicated  to managing the negative impacts of Sea-Tac Airport. We’ve needed such a person since basically forever.

It’s one of the few ideas I’ll ever float that has some ‘what?’ factor. As far as I know, there is literally no person doing this job in the United States. But there should be.

People always complain that I’m gassing on, but there have been successes  in managing the airport, you know about them, you just don’t hear about them. (Until 1990, the airport literally dumped untreated waste directly into Des Moines Creek and Puget Sound.) But those successes have been epic and  inexpensive. They were also local talent and that was the key. Unfortunately, the only thing that ever got newspaper coverage seems to have been the truly spectacular wastes of money (eg. over $5.5M on Third Runway legal fees).

Anyhoo, I’m being a terrible tease and  I’ll come back to this another time. For now: the key mistake we always make is to outsource airport management–as a reaction to the Port. We hire outsiders from a small club of people inside the airline world, to come in, usually at the 11th hour. And that is why it is always unbelievably expensive and totally ineffective.

But among this person’s duties would be:

  1. Develop a strategic approach towards all negative impacts from Sea-Tac Airport.
  2. Educate the public and improve awareness to build regional support
  3. Act as legislative advocate on all related legislation.
  4. Identify and develop grant funding both for this department, but also to create mitigation programs that benefit the entire community.
  5. Organize other governments and organizations towards coordinated and strategic responses.
  6. Facilitate a new Council/Citizen Committee that can create legislation for the full Council.

This person needs to have a very specific set of skills: environmental law, communication, and the ability to grok airports. I’m asking for funding for three years as a proof of concept–and I’m applying the same standard our City Manager proposed when he accepted his job: if the work product isn’t paying for itself, it should be terminated.

The City Manager has chaired our Aviation Advisory Committee and currently represents the City on all airport-related groups. This person will take over that slot.

#2 DIRECTOR OF Business formation

I would like the City to create a dedicated business formation program. The program would initially consist of an FTE who’s job would be to:

  1. Promote Des Moines businesses, both locally and regionally
  2. Assist new business formation and existing business relocation to Des Moines
  3. Use a dedicated fund to provide start-up money as needed
  4. Provide ongoing surveys, events and other support services to help the business community support and grow their customer bases

Currently the City Manager also functions as Economic Development Director. But this is actually a very different job. The job of EDD is strategic planning–and in practice that has meant land development. But Des Moines also (and especially) needs someone to help the business owners. Years ago we had a Chamber Of Commerce but it was not particularly effective. This person will recruit promising businesses to locate here. When someone begins the process, this person will make it their mission to help them open and then thrive. To build their digital presence. To market. And to keep their finger on the pulse of every business and help raise their profile with media.

One of the first thing my critics often say about me is that I hate business. Sometimes I think I’m the only person on the Council who actually likes  running a business. I think we’ve often confused ‘building’ and ‘real estate’ as ‘business’. Construction is great. But a business–something that serves customers–is an ongoing process. A City that says it supports business should provide services that actually, you know, support business.

#3 Second metro shuttle

The Metro Shuttle that runs down 216th was a very good idea. Now let’s bring it to the rest of Des Moines. I propose to establish a second and permanent Metro Shuttle line for the south end of town with a route heading south from Marine View Drive and the Marina down to Judson, Huntington Park and Highline College. This will help us in our stated goals as a transit-centered community and it will help tie the south end of town into the downtown core–especially for our large senior community.

#4 Accelerated Marina Dock Replacement

I would like the City to research the possibilities of using as much of the $9M, up to the entire amount, to accelerate dock replacement. Not land side or restrooms. Just the docks.

I would like to research how much/if any cost savings, economic benefits or other advantages there might be in using all or a much larger portion of this money to complete multiple docks. Are there some docks we could use this money to replace now that would immediately start generating more revenue? If so, how much? How much borrowing costs would we save over the long haul?

If not the full $9M does $6M give significant benefits?  $4M? I’m trying to get a sense of what the relative benefits (if any) might be to each of these spending points.

#5 MARINA COMMUNITY OUTREACH PRESENTATIONS

The Marina Master Plan is very complex. The document is good, but it is very difficult for most people to visualize what the experience will be given so many various possibilities. Some of the options discussed compete for the same space. It is also challenging to understand many of the financial aspects, including revenue potential and costs.

It is essential to provide the public with a clear understanding of what this all might mean for the future of the Marina … and for them. To create that understanding, the City will immediately identify and engage with a specialist in creating media presentations to create a series of materials:

  1. A Virtual Tour Of The Marina. These are common in residential and commercial real estate. It would consist of a video animation allowing the viewer to “fly over and through” the area and explore what the Marina might look like from several perspectives (birds eye, street level pedestrian, etc.) The animation will demonstrate all aspects of the proposal in the document as far as they can currently be known. It might begin with a ‘before’ fly-over approaching the Marina entrance and showing how the Marina looks now and then transition to an ‘after’ fly-over showing the new elements. It could also give a visitor’s viewpoint taking walk though various features on the land side. The following list of elements to be included is by no means comprehensive but is provided to give a sense of scope:
    1. Waterside
      • The new covered moorage look
      • How guest moorage changes
      • Changes to the fairways
      • Possible Expansion of Ranger
      • A view of the APB from the docks
      • A ferry docking
      • Views of the various seawalls – most of the public never sees these and do not understand what it does or the challenges to wildlife. This is important to residents who want to have confidence that the rebuild is compatible with ongoing interest in wildlife
    2. Landside
      • Hotel
      • Pedestrians moving from the ferry to parking
      • Movement of boats going in and out of the APB dry stack to the launch
      • Movement of boats going in and out of the east bank dry stack to the launch
      • A view from the condos looking down on the APB
      • Interiors of the APB with proposed uses
      • Pedestrians descending the 223rd stairs
      • A re-purposed harbormaster building
      • Parking flows
  2. A series of posters and hand outs, and web pages, crafted at a sixth grade level , explaining the various environmental concerns: why permitting is so costly and so fraught. This is important to residents who want to have confidence that the rebuild is compatible with ongoing interest in wildlife.
  3. A series of posters, hand outs and web pages, crafted at a sixth grade level, explaining the costs, revenue forecasts, permitting challenges, how we intend to finance and also the appropriate uses of ongoing Marina money (eg. how an Enterprise Fund works.)

Important: All these materials will be updated as various elements of the project are approved and a complete set of all revisions will be maintained so that the public can see how the project evolves over time.

These materials will be created to be both self-standing, but also with a presenter in mind. The goal will be to support community meetings where experts from the City and its partners can use these to enhance their presentations and Q&A sessions with the public.

$20,000.

#6 FRIENDS OF SALTWATER STATE PARK WEB SITE

“The Friends Of Saltwater State Park are invaluable to the City and our residents through their efforts at park clean up, education and in monitoring the health of Puget Sound and the water quality at McSorley Creek. Their ongoing efforts to monitor and report spills from Midway Sewer District are much appreciated by our residents who feel safer knowing that they are watching. Their work also greatly enhances the value of the park as a tourist destination both at the water and on the forest trails.

Like many non-profits, FOSWSP struggles to attract volunteers and the donations necessary to provide these valuable benefits to Des Moines. To address these challenges, they are asking for our help to create a new web site to attract volunteers and donations. The new site will also provide educational opportunities and keep the public updated on the health of McSorley Creek, Puget Sound and the forest. Please see their attached proposal with details.”

Full proposal

$7,500

Summary: Tie it together

Look, I don’t know if any of this is going anywhere. But I’m sharing this with you because I honestly have never been clear as to the City’s strategy. We talk about the ‘Marina Redevelopment’ and other projects, but they always feel like separate and unrelated items. At the end of the day, Des Moines started out in 1959 as a very small city that grew by leaps and bounds with many small annexations. And in truth, the City still feels like all those separate ‘chunks’.

Part of that is just life. An administration is busy enough with the day to day stuff. But at some point we have to make real efforts to stamp Des Moines as a unified City. I’ve already suggested having unified branding across the City. Beyond that, we need to have a series of strategic goals that get beyond this project and that project–and finally gets us to being a unified city.


*Some day I’ll write an article on Detroit during the late 70’s. I’ll call it “How to waste half a billion dollars with only the best of intentions.” The City of Detroit went through a very long phase where it received absolutely lavish sums of Federal grants. And it just poured money into various social programs that were almost uniformly ineffective. But after so many decades of abject racism, questioning the effectiveness of any of these programs was politically impossible. Outcomes mattered far less than simply to appear to be trying. I still have a bad taste in my mouth thinking back on all the neighbourhoods that should have been helped.

This is a news year…

Posted on Categories Marina, Transparency, Transportation

Introduction

You know you’re in  trouble whenever an article comes with an Introduction. And yes, this is the probably the longest unpaid document I’ve written since college (and even then I was double-spacing if you know what I’m saying.) Although it may seem like just another pissing contest between myself and the current majority, it’s actually another kind of argument–what kind of City Council you want to have going forward.

Frankly, many of us choose City Councilmembers, based on the 153 words in the Voters Guide, some yard signs and maybe some ribbon cuttings and social media posts. How could we not? We have no newspaper and very few public fora. And even when we do there is never a moderator who knows the local issues well enough to put forward the really important questions that the public doesn’t even know to ask.  So the public almost never gets a chance to gain much understanding of important local issues–or how candidates and incumbents think about those issues. We vote with our hearts (Oh, I knew his mother!) rather than our heads.

Ironically, this kerfuffle started as an attempt to address the above. I wrote to a journalism teacher at Highline College to ask if their newspaper, The Thunderword, could start doing some ongoing political coverage. I understood that this was a risky move, but I was encouraged by a couple of good articles their student/reporters did during my campaign in 2019.

As you will read, all that went horribly wrong. But on reflection, it occurred to me that the entire back and forth might be a way to put in one place some of the most important issues I had hoped the reporter might address and some of the very real problems of communication with the current government.

None of this material should be new for people who read my Weekly Updates. But there’s the rub: the problem with the Weekly Updates is that they assume that you are following along–like a TV series. But almost none of you are, of course. You’re just seeing a bit here and a bit there. So if this article seems longer than many Russian Novels, it’s partly because I wanted to provide the public with sort of a one stop shopping experience.

The other reason to gas on like this is because there’s been this ongoing narrative from my colleagues that I’m doing all sorts of bad stuff. So I decided to lay out this one interaction as fully as possible, with all the links and footnotes and let you decide for yourself.

Now, exactly who should slog through all this? Well hopefully the candidates. And also hopefully, a few members of the community who want to get engaged in local politics but don’t know where to begin. Again, without a newspaper, the only way people tend to get involved in Des Moines politics (or even just to really know what is going on) is by having ‘a friend’.

Whether you agree or disagree with my positions, I hope you will ask all the candidates and incumbents to respond to them. Because at the end of the day, if you don’t ask, neither candidates or incumbents have any need to tell you what they really think about anything. In fact, and this is the really  uncomfortable part, if no one asks, people take their seats on the Council all the time not having given serious thought to any of the truly important long term issues of city government.

Now on with the show…

I reach out to Highline College Journalism…

On 4/10/2021 I sent the following email to an instructor in the Highline College Journalism program with the subject line “This is a news year…”:

XXXXXXX,I dunno if you pay attention much to DM City Council these days… and 1I know you’re not my biggest fan… but I want to encourage you to do whatever you can to provide -some- kind of coverage this year.Ya know how they always say, “THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION EVER!”? And it’s not true, of course. But this really is the most important political year for DM in at least a decade.

What the public does not understand is that we are still in the Governor’s State Of Emergency. That lifted the City Manager’s spending cap. He can basically spend whatever he likes without a Council vote. Eg. last year the City spent a million dollars in Stimulus money without a single vote of the Council. It is likely that we will spent -8- million in the ARP stimulus this year…again no Council vote required. (Grateful cheering will be recommended, of course.)

Apparently, a passenger ferry is coming to DM? … a multi-million dollar deal… again decided without a vote, presentation to Council or public comment.

We just got the first full Council briefing on a Marina Redevelopment of both the waterside -and- landside. It will certainly be the single largest capital investment in the City’s history. It is being sold as a Prix Fixe… no choosing individual menu items. There has only been one consultant and one proposal. And we will likely approve it in principal by August.

The Port Of Seattle will be going ahead with the SAMP this summer… an expansion program of the airport that most of the public has no idea about, but which will provide for 40% greater capacity. During a time where the airlines admit that demand will not fully recover to current levels for many years.

There’s more, but I’ve taxed yer patience as it is.

Whether you agree or not on policy, I hope you will agree that this -is- a news year. And (literally) no one is covering any of this.

Give it a think.

—JC

I think it’s pretty clear that my intention was to begin a dialogue on how to actually cover Des Moines politics. These were all bullet points for discussion–not the actual ‘story’.

On April 13 I received the following reply:

Hi Councilman:

This is very interesting, and none of it sounds right. Then again, I’ve been skeptical of your city manager for quite some time.

We’ll see what we can do.

On April 26th I received the following from a Thunderword student/reporter:

Hi Mr. Harris,

I’m a reporter with the Thunderword Newspaper at Highline College. I believe another reporter had been in contact with you recently after you reached to XXXXXXXXX with some information on the city council’s recent operations.

If you’re willing, I was hoping you could respond to a few questions to clarify:

– Gov. Inslee’s initial COVID-19 state of emergency declaration was issued way back in early 2020: Has the City Manager been operating without the Council’s input since then?

– When, or under what circumstances is the state of emergency expected to be lifted?

– What are your concerns over the City Manager still having these powers this far into the pandemic?

– What has this situation resulted in thus far? You mention a few major expenditures in your email.

– Has the City Manager ever used these emergency powers to act against the Council’s wishes?

On May 5th I sent this reply:

Sorry for the delay. I really thought hard before replying. At the risk of sounding condescending, I’m going to assume you don’t yet know much about how municipal govt. works–only because less than 1% of voters do. You ask some good questions, I get them all the time from residents, but they’re kinda not the -right- questions. They’re just so broad that I’d have to write a ‘primer’ about as long as War And Peace on local government before getting to the kind of short answers you’re probably looking for.

Almost all the political coverage DM has had for the past 10 years has tended to be terrible: someone watches a City Council Meeting and then comments or pulls quotes out of context with no proper understanding of the issue. Frankly, that’s what this initial round of questions feels like to me. I’m not trying to be mean–it takes time to figure out.

All of which is to say: The original intent of my writing XXXXXXXXX was to suggest that you create an ongoing politics beat. If that’s something you want to take on, I’m happy to talk to you any time to begin that process. I have no desire to control -anything- but I -do- have an interest in getting the story -right-.

So if the goal is to do a single article based on these questions, please… don’t do that. I’d recommend starting with something much simpler and working your way into it.

I do hope to hear from you. Des Moines -needs- regular political coverage.

—JC

And I never heard back.

Thunderword Article

But on May 21, I see the following article in the Thunderword: Confused accusations spread within Des Moines City Council

A minority of Des Moines City Council members have claimed that the city manager is ignoring their input, but the rest of the council disagreesSince the COVID-19 pandemic began last year, the city of Des Moines, like countless other cities, has been operating under a state of emergency declaration. This procedure typically expedites the process of distributing emergency relief, and generally taking action to quell the emergency at hand.

Some Des Moines City Council members, however, have taken issue with the city government’s operation amidst these circumstances.

Specifically, they have accused City Manager Michael Matthias of engaging in widespread spending without permission of the city council. Two of the council’s seven members have expressed this concern.

Councilmember Anthony Martinelli is one such member. He said that much of City Manager Matthias’s spending has taken place without the opportunity for council input.

“The city manager has spent a considerable amount of city funds without council approval,” Martinelli said. “I found out we were moving ahead with a business grant program the same time as the public, and this has been true of several other projects.”

The council’s other five members and several city officials have denied these accusations completely.

Martinelli said that the city manager is legally authorized to pass these expenditures, but that he feels the council should be more involved in the process.

“There’s no reason he shouldn’t be keeping the council more in the loop and making a larger effort to garner their input,” Martinelli said.

2J.C. Harris, another member of the council, has made similar claims. He said that under the statewide state of emergency declaration, the city manager has been allowed to circumvent council approval almost entirely.

“That lifted the city manager’s spending cap,” Harris said. “He can basically spend whatever he likes without a council vote.”

Deputy Mayor Matt Mahoney, speaking on behalf of the council’s other five members including Mayor Matt Pina, said these claims are not grounded in reality.

“There are some things going on in our city by a couple of our council members that have attempted to discredit our city staff and key leaders,” he said. “We have council members that seem to fail to understand what’s really happening.”

Mahoney said that the statewide state of emergency referenced by the accusing council members has had no bearing on the city manager’s spending abilities. The state of emergency declaration the city has been operating under, he said, was initiated by the city council at the start of the pandemic.

“It was a unanimous decision, all seven council members voted for it,” he said. “That gives the city manager some inherent rights, but our city manager hasn’t abused them.”

As part of the city’s emergency relief efforts, Mahoney confirmed that approximately $500,000 were distributed to small businesses through a grant program. But, contrary to Councilmember Martinelli’s claims, he said that none of that was city funds.

“This was all part of the American CARES Act,” Mahoney said. “This was a distribution of funds given to us by the federal government, in accordance with their guidelines.”

Not being city money, distribution of those funds didn’t require council approval, he said.

“In accordance with the CARES Act, our city manager was able to create a program that gave up to $25,000 to businesses that applied,” Mahoney said.

The accusing council members’ other claims, Mahoney said, were equally untrue. He said that the city manager has acted only within his authorized limits to provide emergency relief, and that no city funds whatsoever have been spent without a council vote.

“Both of these guys don’t support what the vision of the majority of the council is, and they are misleading the truth,” he said.

As for where these council members’ concern has come from, Mahoney said their accusations were being made in an attempt to create a sensation and have their voices as a minority heard.

They might be convinced, but they are liars,” he said. “And I hate to say that, it’s appalling — they have misrepresented the truth.”

Although the article was inflammatory and I was not exactly happy with the ‘reporting’, I ignored it because I know the public hates Council in-fighting. My colleague Luisa Bangs made some cryptic comments in the Waterland Blog as to why she was retiring, but since she also had not reached out to me about the article so I crossed my fingers that they were unrelated.  I chalked it up as one of those, “Well, we’re not doing that again” deals and figured that was the end of it.

Apparently not…

However, on June 19th, candidate for City Council Yoshiko Grace Matsui, linked to the article on her Facebook Page with her comment.

“It’s not illegal” is not a great response for obstructing the community (and other Council Members) from understanding how Federal funding was distributed in Des Moines. The underlying concern, from my perspective, is there a lack of communication and transparency from the current administration. The City Manager may not have a legal obligation to seek Council approval, but he and the Council have a obligation to the residents to explain their actions to us. As an elected City Council member, I will push for more public accountability.

And that’s when I weighed in:

Awkward… I applaud the Thunderword as literally the only venue covering local politics. And I appreciate and agree with the sentiments of Candidate Matsui. However…

The original impetus for this article was me reaching out to the Thunderword to ask them to establish an ongoing politics beat… not to do a one-off article. Perhaps the constraints of the journalism program prevents that.

The reporter makes a noble effort, but the GRO Business Grant program (which is what he’s dancing around) is simply too complicated to put in a one-off article. Sadly, the reporter did not reach out to me for my take and there are simply too many errors here to comment on.

(In one paragraph: There are over 1,700 licensed businesses in DM. The GRO program handed out $503k to 26. 26 applied and 26 received 100% or more than their request. No scoring process, no public outreach and no Council review. The 26 chosen all knew to apply because either a) they had an existing relationship with the City or a CM. Among the Deputy Mayor’s misstatements, CARES -was- City money–we received it from the State. 1Allowing the City Manager to run the GRO program in this fashion was the choice of the Council majority, not a requirement.)

The Deputy Mayor calling me a ‘liar’ would be laughable if it were not for the fact that the public has no good way to judge the truth–including just how dodgy the GRO program was. The entire process was a black box and unlike any of our sister cities.

All that said, the City spending process is not illegal… But by giving the City Manager more control than any other regional executive, the Council has abandoned its primary function: oversight. Our main practical task is -oversight-. Despite all the pearl clutching and slanders from my colleagues, we haven’t actually performed that task in any meaningful way for quite some time.

Interested parties can look at my Weekly Updates for information on Council actions and specifics and then judge for themselves. Here’s one which talks about the GRO program as well as a list of budgeting issues I was not thrilled with at our last budget retreat.

https://jcharrisfordesmoines.com/weekly-update-08-24-2020/

I stir it up on the Facebook Des Moines Politics Page

Having been ‘tagged’ (as the kids say), I felt like I could no longer pretend that the Deputy Mayor’s reactions did not exist. So on June 22nd, I linked to the original article on the Facebook Des Moines Politics Page: Way to take the high road, Deputy Mayor

I freely admit that the title was sarcastic and inappropriate to a fellow colleague and I sincerely apologise–not for posting the article, which I think was quite appropriate–but for such a snarky title. I’m not splitting hairs. At the end of the day, Deputy Mayor Mahoney is an elected official and his office deserves courtesy in every official context.

That same day Deputy Mayor Matt Mahoney posted a series of comments. Here is the first:

Councilmember Harris
You initiated this situation. According to the reporter you stated the City Manager has purchased a 1 million dollar passenger ferry without approval. Untrue.
You stated the city manager had approved Marina Development without council approval. Untrue. In fact you’ve been present over past several months where we as a council reviewed and approved many components of this initiative.
The GRO program was fully within legal guidelines and you should applaud we helped our businesses.
Again had you not initiated this with false information to the reporter we wouldn’t be here! Suggest you take your own advice an take the high road by being truthful.

Who are these key leaders of which you speak?

First off, it’s hard to respond to the Deputy Mayor’s ‘quotes’ in the original article because, based on how my comments were misrepresented in the original article, I don’t feel like I can assume that Mr. Mahoney is even quoted accurately.

But again, I never actually spoke to that student/reporter. Apparently, the instructor passed off my initial email to the reporter, who then pasted those ‘quotes’, completely out of context, into an email and sent it to my colleagues for their reactions. No research. No fact checking. Basically a he-said-she-said using raw materials that were never meant for that purpose.

I cannot blame my colleagues for being upset.

However, we all (and especially electeds) have control over how we handle our upsets. Where Deputy Mayor Mahoney wrote, “There are some things going on in our city by a couple of our council members that have attempted to discredit our city staff and key leaders…” I’m not even sure what that sentence means. But it sure is vague.

So let me be less vague:

  • I never, ever, ever mention “staff” when I discuss my disagreements with my colleagues or the City Manager. And I have no idea who he means by “key leaders”.
  • I am not happy with specific policies and conduct of the City Manager and the current five members of the majority who enable him. No one else bears responsibility. I never say or imply otherwise.

But this sort of attack is nothing new. Since my election, the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and City Manager have repeatedly used similar tactics. They have repeatedly charged that I am ‘lying’ or  ‘misrepresenting the City’ or ‘insulting the entire 175 person staff of the City Of Des Moines’ whenever I disagree with a specific policy or their treatment of myself and CM Martinelli. They always make these charges in the most public fora available and without talking to me first. They make these allegations in the most vague terms possible and with no evidence to back up their claims. This has occured repeatedly both 2on the dais  (see Mayor’s comments from 04/09/2020 RCM at 1:00) and off the dais. (Deputy Mayor Mahoney’s letter to the Waterland Blog.) This is a strategy as old as the hills: respond to difficult questions with false accusations; brand the person as ‘not one of us’. (For the sake of completeness, here is my response to both those events in the Waterland Blog. And no, I’m not being ironic. I only wrote that public letter after attempting to phone and email both my colleagues. They never replied.)

As your elected representative my job is, by definition, to ask questions and to agree or disagree as necessary. Under State Law the job of the Council is to provide oversight of the administration. My job is not to automatically vote 7-0 as some of my colleagues explicitly favor.

Now back to Facebook…

But as to Deputy Mayor Mahoney’s comments on Facebook, ironically he is correct in one respect: that article would not have been written had I not reached out to the Journalism Teacher.

One portion I will note:

the email from the reporter was sent to 3 Councilmembers: Buxton, Bangs and Martinelli. Councilmembers Buxton and Bangs alerted the mayor, city staff and myself. Thru a records request I found Councilmember Martinelli responded that he knew nothing of a passenger ferry and that he didn’t like GRO program but knew it was within City Managers responsibility. The reporter stated he had contact with two individuals, Martinelli in his reply above and then in my records request I have you reaching out to the editor coordinating a phone call with the reporter. The below allegations had to be made by you.

We never talk anymore…

Deputy Mayor Mahoney’s first move was not to take five minutes to call or write me before responding to the reporter. Nope. Deputy Mayor Mahoney’s first response was to do a Public Records Request (PRR) of some kind (I suppose that I could do another PRR to find out, but that would mean wasting even more staff time.) No, his first response was to try to find a way to avoid talking to either CM Martinelli or myself.

Again, this has been a chronic problem since my election. My colleagues get upset over something and, instead of talking about it with me, they do that high school move–write a note or talk behind one’s back. In fact, I have received only one phone call from either the Deputy Mayor or Mayor since my election–and those were only to respond 4in the most negative way possible to a proposal I made to use a small portion of CARES funding developed by Highline Schools to improve broadband service for low-income school children.

And this is important: The reason CMs avoid one another is because they can.

The job of Councilmember has been likened, by Mayor Pina, to be that of a director of a board overseeing a $100 million corporation–the City Of Des Moines. But unlike a ‘real’ director position, there’s no 4code of professionalism for Councilmembers. There are no job requirements. You can put in as much time as you like, or not. You can talk, or not. You can say stuff behind each other’s backs rather than dealing directly, or not. To quote our City Manager, “There’s no civility clause in my contract.” In my opinion there should be.

The Answers

Now to the questions the reporter sent to the Deputy Mayor. Remember that these are not my questions. But since he asked them, it would seem cowardly not to address them.

1. Have the City Manager’s spending powers been uncapped under Gov. Inslee’s State Of Emergency (SOE) declaration?

Yes. In ‘normal’ times, the City Manager has pre-defined spending limits–the most well-known is a $50,000 for General Fund items. Anything beyond that requires a vote by the Council, either on an individual request or as part of the formal annual Budget. For example, here is the 2020 Budget.

The main point of  lifting the spending cap during the SOE was to give the City Manager the authority to move quickly. That’s what you want in an emergency: an Executive that can take action without having to wait for a Council vote. And the City Manager can still go to Council for spending authority during an SOE. There’s no requirement that he not do so. In fact, many Cities continued to do normal spending authorization during the pandemic for items that did not require immediate attention. Note that the GRO Business Grant Program took over four months to deploy.

2. Has this allowed the City Manager to spend city funds without a vote from the Council?

Yes. The entirety of our almost $1 million CARES of funding was spent by the City Manager without Council input. He informed the Council of his spending decisions (basically half to GRO and half to employee salaries) after the fact at our Budget Retreat in August 2020. And despite what my colleagues mistakenly wrote above, this was ‘City’ money. Yes, we received it from the State, but guess what, sports fans? We receive most of our money from State, County and Federal agencies in the form of taxes and grants. This is not semantics. We receive monies in various ways, but we decide how to spend it. Or rather, in this case, the City Manager decided how to spend it.

3. We were told several city projects were initiated without Council approval, including the purchase of a “multi-million dollar” passenger ferry and the marina redevelopment: Is this true?

Yes and No. Ish.

  • I addressed the GRO Business Grant program (and by the way, here are the recipients)  as well as the CARES Act funding above.
  • I have written extensively about the lack of transparency and outreach with regard to the Marina Redevelopment. The City has seem almost wilful in its desire to exclude the general public from the discussion (always citing a single ‘open-house’ from 2017.) Questions and Comments were only circulated among the 800 or so boat owners (80% of which do not reside in Des Moines!) And those few who have been in the loop (the DMMA board–representing those same boat owners), far from objecting, have been among the largest donors to the incumbents’ re-election campaigns. Let’s call it what it is: a group of about a dozen self-interested (and mostly un-elected) parties making generational decisions for the entire community.
  • Regarding the Passenger Ferry thing, please see below.

4. If true that the City Manager has been committing to these expenditures without Council input, does this concern you?

No and Yes. Having read the comments my colleagues in the majority made during the City Manager’s recent annual performance review, I know for certain that they have absolutely no concerns about his actions.  Council-Manager-Government is majoritarian, so as a body, the Council has spoken. Totally legal.

However, ‘legal’ and ‘good government’ are often very different things. I believe that the conduct of the City Manager and City Council on the above items (and many others) were not and are not in the best interest of Des Moines.

The unasked question…

Naturally, the reporter did not mention the airport. No one ever mentions the airport–by far the largest source of pollution in King County.

Try to imagine a City residing next to anything as impactful as the eigth largest airport in America: a city along a hurricane-prone area; a city next to a large factory; a city next to a volcano (I’m not kidding.)

Given the nature of all those scenarios, such a government would be expected to have an office and a system in place to provide real and ongoing advocacy and mitigation for its residents. The City Of Des Moines has never had such expertise. Instead, we have engaged in a decade long series of feckless venues such as StART and the Highline Forum (all run by the Port Of Seattle) or a short-lived Aviation Advisory Committee which was so ineffectual that its members resigned in frustration. The City does these things to demonstrate that we’re ‘doing something’. And because 5nothing useful ever happens, the public assumes that nothing can happen. That is simply not true.

Not trying to cop out here, but describing how and why things could be better is beyond the scope of this novella. Interested readers should visit SeatacNoise.Info, a group I helped found to work these issues.

The only thing I want to say at the moment is that these issues are highly political and the result of choices. Perhaps the easiest way to describe the politics would be with three quick anecdotes:

  • The current majority was lead by former Mayor Dave Kaplan, who is now, the Port Of Seattle lobbyist to the City Of Des Moines.
  • Our ‘community representative’ on StART is the aforementioned City Currents publisher and ferry advocate Peter Philips–who actually resides in Normandy Park.
  • At the 04/22/21 City Council Meeting, the City accepted a grant from the Port Of Seattle with language showing support for the Port’s Century Agenda (this is the Port’s long term planning document and explicitly calls for continuing to expand airport operations.) The thing to recognise about that grant is that we literally did not have to include that language of support in order to win the money.

Things could be different. And anyone who says otherwise either does not know what they’re talking about or has some relationship with the Port Of Seattle and the airline industry.

And about that Ferry…

Please turn to page 6 of Spring 2021 City Currents Magazine. It sure sounds like a ferry might be in your future! The article featured the Deputy Mayor’s byline but was actually written by Peter Philips, the publisher of City Currents and an ongoing advocate of passenger ferries in conjunction with Bruce Agnew.

After the December 5 2019, Study Session, the  City commissioned a ‘demand study’ on the idea. But as of March 2021, the City had not released it, only the sales presentation from the vendor. I had asked for this study for months and been point blank refused by the City Manager. And no, no vote had been taken.

The only real study that had been done was by the Puget Sound Regional Commission in August 2020 and in Appendix D they had scored Des Moines at the bottom in terms of demand. I thought there must be some caveat–perhaps a different route would work better, so I talked to the analysts who did the work and they were, frankly, skeptical of any type of daily passenger ferry demand.

So, I did my own Public Records Request to compel the City to release the actual study, which we had paid for last year, finally be released. Here is the actual study.)

NextDoor

Now please look closely at this exchange on April 1, 2021 on NextDoor Des Moines (click on this stub image to see the entire thread–including Deputy Mayor Mahoney’s comments–which I quote from below.)

The Deputy Mayor doubles down on that City Currents article. Like Mr. Gracey above, Mahoney doesn’t say a ferry may be coming. He tells people that it is coming.

It’s no April Fools. A few of us at the city have been working hard to provide waterside benefits especially our city manager and we thank Peter too. People will come to our city and eat in our restaurants. Not only can you go to Seattle but Tacoma as well. The development we have planned for Marina and downtown in future will make Des Moines a enviable place to live.Matt Mahoney
Deputy Mayor

…and that the ferry will be tested this summer.

Nicholas Seabaugh we hope to test as soon as this summer. Then with coordination and approval from a few entities implement in 2022.

In the immortal words of Tonto, “What you mean we, Kemosabe?” Just to be clear: The Council has not taken a vote on any of that. We haven’t even seen a proposal of any kind. We have received no data as to the costs, potential benefits, environmental impacts, parking, scheduling, fees, inter-modal access or specific, shall I go on?

Follow up…

The City has since appeared to 6walk this back significantly. The most recent comments I recall from the City Manager were at a Municipal Facilities Committee meeting in April (for which no recording is currently available), but the phrase he used then was that the whole idea was still in the ‘exploratory stage’. Good. Explore away. But what the City and the Deputy Mayor did with their various updates and then that City Currents article was what anyone who has ever sold for a living understands: they were ‘building buzz’. They were trying to make the project seem inevitable by telling the public that it is inevitable–ginning up interest in the idea long before they had any data to support its actual viability.

And the reason I find this so upsetting is because the public has been so desperate, for so long, for any kind of economic development in Des Moines that all you have to do is whisper words like “ferry” or “grocery store” and people go bananas. Which is precisely why they did it: so that when someone tries to ask reasonable questions, they’d get shot down for being a killjoy.

Why on earth did you expect that I’d read all this?

(aka ‘the essay after the essay’)

Look, the rest of this is speechifyin’ about a bunch of high minded “what kind of government do you want?” crap. You can quit now.

The only reason to go through this sort of exercise is to demonstrate the hours one has to put in documenting the issues I raise. I have to show my work because no one else does. It’s ridiculously easy in Des Moines for a student/reporter or a Deputy Mayor or a guy who works for the Port Of Seattle to create a fog of confusion with just a few irresponsible paragraphs. There’s no fact checking and no push back.

The Deputy Mayor can simply say “liar!” to a student reporter or from the dais because no one will call him out.

You can’t fight City Hall…

And then there’s this other thing, which is the one thing I cannot document without doing some sort of ‘Tell All Book’ and break a lot of confidences. So if I just lost my ‘cred’ with you, I guess I have to live with the pain. 😀 But what follows matters if we are ever to improve long term governance in Des Moines.

If you’ve read this far, the thought must’ve crossed your mind (as it should have), “Gee JC, if things really are like that, how come more people don’t speak up?” This is the answer.

Cities tend to be driven by self interests which are usually on a short timeline. If you own a business, union, civic organisation, etc. your concerns are for your deal, not what is necessarily best for an ever-changing environment and cast of 33,000 residents and over a 25-50 year timeline. I’m not saying these interests are nefarious in any way. Quite the opposite: they all have very important and often wonderful parts to play in the functioning of Des Moines. And often their interests coincide with those of the City writ large. It’s just that these interests are advocating to keep their thing going; as they should.

But notice one thing about all of the above: They do not vote.

Business and civic group leaders tend to go with the status quo, partly out of self-interest, but partly because it’s just easier. Or at least, inevitable. The number of people I’ve encountered over the years who will say what I’m saying now (notably, behind closed doors) is infuriating but a completely understandable and ‘business-like’ attitude. It boils down to this:

“We’ll work with these people.”

This always strikes me as about as likely as when a friend tells you that “I know he’s rough around the edges, but I just know he’ll get better after we get married.” Uh, huh.

9Plus, again, these aren’t some bunch of guys in a smoke filled room. They all have very noble and very different purposes ranging from amazingly dedicated non-profits that the City could not do without to unions to businesses to HOAs and on and on. About the only thing they have in common is, again, they’re just focused on their specific interest and whatever those interests are, they definitely do not involve rocking the boat.

But because these are all very good individual goals, it’s easy for everyone (including the public) to confuse those specific goals with those of Des Moines. (Also, a lot of these constituencies often turn out to be the largest campaign donors and that only adds to the fun.)

Simple example: there might be a construction site that provides well-paid jobs for 2-3 years. Which is great. But maybe those workers don’t actually reside in Des Moines. And maybe that building isn’t something that is in the long term interest of Des Moines over a 25 year time line. But the City gets a one-time check, which is hard to resist. That sort of thing happens all the time. I love jobs. I love unions. I love buildings. I love money. But we’re elected to put the long term  interests of the residents of Des Moines first and all those incentives can also go in the opposite direction.

Not just in this example; in every relationship, business, civic, non-profit, volunteer. Doesn’t matter. Every City like Des Moines has to actively work to keep non-voting interests at arms length because those incentives are so strong.

If only you were nicer…

This dynamic also plays into one of  the most corrosive aspect of local politics: the idea of ‘if only you were nicer’.

I spoke with a Code Enforcement Officer years ago who told me something very interesting. She said  that when she engaged with people who have had a problem with their neighbour, the offending party often defended their position by saying something like, “Well, I probably wouldn’t have done ‘x’ if only they had been nicer.” The person was explaining away their bad conduct by saying that their neighbour hadn’t asked them to stop in a friendlier way.

“Usually when people tell me ‘they didn’t ask nicely’, those people never intended to comply. You could be a saint and it wouldn’t matter.”

Exactly. That kind of behavior is often meant to deflect from the facts and often it works–in all kinds of contexts.

credit where credit is due…

Here’s one more number that used to surprise me: the quantity of those same constituencies I mentioned above who will say (again, privately) how truly unhappy they are with the state of the City (and in particular) the City Manager, while at the same time really liking the various Councilmembers.

Look, as many differences as I may have with our City Manager, I would never insult him like that. The idea that people would hold our City Manager responsible for any perceived failings of the City is both ridiculous to me and deeply unfair. He has precisely the authority the Council gives him. The Deputy Mayor is quite correct in saying that the there is a ‘vision’ that the current majority has decided to move forward. We can argue about whose vision that may be, but ultimately it is their choice.

Which is to say: if you like the way things are going? Credit the majority for having the wisdom to hire the guy and take his advice. If not, hold those same CMs to account for exactly the same reasons.

The fact that so many people, some of the most engaged citizens of Des Moines, have such a profound cognitive disconnect, only reinforces for me just how ‘personality driven’ (as opposed to fact-driven) is the current state of politics in Des Moines.

Over the years, I’ve heard many candidates who campaign by saying, “I know we need more transparency. But we can get there by working together more cooperatively!” And my reaction, based on read of local politics  is this, “Yeah, and I want a brand of de-caf that’s just as tasty as the real thing, pal.”

I doubt any of the candidates follow these events anywhere near closely enough. Many already have years of personal relationships and so will likely come in with established biases that are very hard to correct for.

That’s DM politics.

No memory…

What I tried (and failed) to get across to both the Journalism Teacher and the Reporter is how desperately Des Moines needs good journalism. In hindsight, I suppose making this kind of ask of a student newspaper was not the smartest gamble I’ve ever made. But it was a gamble I felt like someone needed to make. Because, again, there’s literally no way to raise these kinds of issues.

Now we used to have two newspapers and they were often very good, but that was a decade ago now. And that’s a problem:  the majority of you have lived here less than ten years. It’s hard to explain to people who’ve never had something how useful it was. In addition to focusing public attention on City government, these outlets guaranteed that the public would have at least some familiarity with the candidates beyond the yard signs and the 153 words.

And in conclusion…

We’re currently at a moment of great cynicism: “No one shows up so why even bother with the public?” Great. Public engagement and transparency are in the toilet, so why waste time and effort on public engagement? By that logic the solution would seem to be to keep leaving important decision making like the Marina to an ever-shrinking group of self-interested people–because, hey, at least those people kinda/sorta know what’s going on, right?

I honestly don’t know what to do with that approach. It feels to me like  the way people are supposed to manage chronic diseases. The thing is incurable, so let’s make the best of it.

If I seem so harsh on everybody it’s because this state of affairs strikes me as the way we are not dealing with climate change. It’s affecting us–and will continue to do so in ever more dramatic fashion–but we’re currently stuck in a state of denial about how fast the world is changing. Without more transparency and less on ‘if only you were nicer, this is basically as good as it will ever get for Des Moines.

So….

  • If you don’t know how the sausage is being made, you should probably check before you dig in with such gusto. Especially if you intend to stick around more than just a few years. As a voter, you have an active role to play in pushing your candidates and electeds to be better: better prepared, more professional, more engaged with the public.
  •  But if you actually think you know how the sausage is being made, no matter who or what you think you know, you don’t know what’s really going on, because the flow of information is so poor. All you’re getting is one point of view. And the fact that you think that things would be just fine in Des Moines if we just didn’t have so many ‘complainers’ tells me that you probably need to get out more.
  • However, if you are one of those forty or fifty people who are leaders of various groups and beneficiaries of business grants, that definitely means that you currently have an outsize influence on the direction of the City. Whether you like to think of yourself as simply a dedicated volunteer or a small business owner in a small town, you’re what passes for (cough) ‘the elite’ here. We as a City should be doing everything in our power to move away from that mode of thinking, even if it minimizes your specific influence.

But regardless of which category you fall into, I would ask everyone to reflect on the fact that the Councilmembers are elected to represent everybody’s tax dollars and everybody’s future.

1This was sort of a half-joke. The teacher is a personal friend and a supporter of my opponent in 2019. He has been nothing but genial with me, even inviting me to speak to one of his classes during my campaign.

1Actually, I was incorrect. The Council did not ‘allow’ the City Manager to spend the CARES money. He spent it, then reported that fact to the Council. I suppose that technically, the majority could have gotten upset, but there is no ‘undo button’.

2Look, I hate being that guy, but my legal name is ‘JC’. Really. That’s it. People always assume it’s some initials. It isn’t. What can I say. It was Gaeltacht Ireland in the 50’s. People did weird shit.

3No other reporter had been in contact with me.

4The video example from the 04/09/20 City Council Meeting I was going to cite is broken on the City web site! And the Minutes are not available either. I am beyond frustrated now with our City’s basic recordkeeping. I’ve gone out of my way not to criticise ‘staff’ but these are the public documents of official City business and the fact that I have to keep repeatedly asking the City to maintain them properly is upsetting.

5The Mayor told me in no uncertain terms that it was inappropriate for Councilmembers to reach out to Highline College to research such a proposal and that, in fact, I may have somehow damaged the City’s relationship with the School District by doing so. This is patently ridiculous. I’ll just note that one of a Councilmember’s only two formal duties according to the RCW is to propose legislation. Again, this is a part of that recurring theme: not merely disagreeing, but portraying anything the current majority dislikes as being ‘inappropriate’.

6Actually, there is a Rules Of Procedure which has some stuff governing conduct on the dais. There is a rule against ‘slander’. I suppose I could call out my colleagues for their many infractions on this, but since enforcing any rule requires a majority vote, there’s simply no point. While I’m side-ranting, note that there are no rules requiring that a CM perform any training, prepare for meetings, learn how the City works, attend committees or other assigned tasks, study the materials, interact with the the public, read comments or do literally anything else to perform the job. The position is completely self-defining. The law assumes that you will provide oversight, but the only real requirement that you show up and vote at required moments. And there is no method for the public to monitor whether or not the CM is doing anything other than attending full Council meetings.

7And can I just add that every time someone makes a frivolous PRR like this it is a double waste of staff time? You’re asking the Public Records Officer to do some work, which mainly consists of asking the people you should have simply called in the first place.

8Yes, we do get ‘studies’ and I am involved in all of them. But after so many years of ‘studying’ the public often cynically tells me, “Haven’t we had enough studies? We have, indeed. The public has correctly diagnosed that the constant studying is a part of the theatrics. The Port actually encourages ‘more study’.

9Of course, now watch an Argosy boat cruise into the dock unannounced for a ‘test run’ next month. But if that were to happen? It would not be because of any fair evaluation or process involving proper public engagement. It would just be business as usual in Des Moines.

10And to be triple-clear, none of this is unique to Des Moines. All cities and electeds face challenges with the same non-voting constituencies. The trick is to show the proper support, while at the same time, not creating a climate that tells the public “What’s good for (x) is automatically good for Des Moines.” Most of the time it is. But sometimes it ain’t.

Weekly Update: 05/02/2021

Posted on Categories Airport, Marina, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Weekly Update: 05/02/2021

Public Service Announcements

The delta variant is no joke! Fortunately, there are now free vaccine appointments available every day, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. The deadline to register to vote online is October 25. Voters can register and vote through 8 p.m. on Election Day at any of KCE’s Vote Center locations.

  2. Wednesday October 13, 6PM Aviation Town Hall with Rep. Adam Smith and 33rd District Sen. Karen Keiser and Rep. Tina Orwall!

  3. Wednesday October 13, 7PM On-Line Candidate Forum hosted by Yoshiko Grace Matsui and Jayme Quinn Wagner! (and to prep, you can watch last month’s Seattle Southside Chamber Of Commerce Candidate Forum!)

  4. he Utility Moratorium ended September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  5. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  6. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  7. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  8. We’re about to update our Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. Comment on any aspect of the system by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  9. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. Please read the Draft Master Plan and then my Marina Redevelopment Talking Points. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Send your questions and concerns to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  10. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  11. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  12. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  13. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  14. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

Last Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting (Agenda)

Wednesday: Sea-Tac Airport Round Table (StART).

Both of these were very consequential for Des Moines–especially if you’re concerned about Port Packages, the obvious recent uptick in flights from the airport, plans for a second airport (somewhere?) and what the cities are doing (or rather not doing) about the SAMP expansion. Unfortunately, I’ve run outta time here. More in a few days.

Saturday: I met with several residents and local business owners in Redondo. There is a general sense that the ‘hot rodding’ is an issue that is not going away. The City has taken a number of steps during April to provide an increased police presence but I think it’s fair to say that residents are looking for a more permanent strategy. The thing is: it is a tough nut to crack. As this article shows, cities like Kent have been trying for a looong time. I’ve gotten a zillion suggestions from residents and I honestly am not sure which, if any, are better than simply assigning an officer to the area. For example, I know a lot of you want ‘noise cameras’ and I know they’re being trialed in Australia and the U.K. but so far I can’t find a single place in the US that is actually making them work. If your googling skills are superior? Please let me know.

Sunday: I visited with Heather and Jessica at the new North Hill Community Market which you should definitely check out every Saturday and Sunday. What I like about their approach is that they’re not in any big rush. It will take time to make people aware that it’s there and to build a larger roster of vendors, but I’m sure it will happen. It’s a great location and there are lots of families on both sides of 1st Ave. that will find it fun and convenient.

This Week

Tuesday: King County Council (Agenda) will be voting to approve making aviation an official part of their climate and health action plan known as SCAP. This is a big deal as it ties in nicely with the airport communities’ shared efforts to monitor aviation emissions both indoors and outdoors.

Thursday: Public Safety Committee (Agenda) There will be an update on ‘street racing’ and ‘street crimes’.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda)

I call your attention to Item #5 on the Consent Agenda, which is basically the go-ahead to start designing the land side redevelopment plan for the Marina.

Some really good questions regarding Marina Redevelopment

If you’re 99% of Des Moines, you have no idea that the Marina Redevelopment is going on. Last month, the City asked for questions and comments from the public  which I urge you to read. But I am pretty sure you weren’t aware of that because the only outreach was in the form of flyers posted at the Marina and on the Marina’s web site. No outreach has been done for the residents of Des Moines.

Here is one question on that list, followed by the City’s response:

“I am a resident of Des Moines and to my knowledge there has not been a resident survey.”

You are correct. The residents do not pay for the Marina. While we would welcome their input, those who financially support the Marina enterprise fund is the top priority of the Master Plan.The City has held a number of community outreach meeting to help us understand the community’s desires for development options.

Let’s go back to Item #5 on the Consent Agenda (which I will be voting against.) Item #5 is to proceed with design and marketing of the land side redevelopment; not the Marina docks (ie. the moorage that boaters pay for–and the thing that actually needs fixing now.)

Get it? The only people the City reached out to for input on the land side were the boaters and the organizations already located at the Marina (SR3, Quarterdeck, CSR, Farmer’s Market.) Those existing stakeholders matter for sure. But let’s be clear: those are not the primary stakeholders of land side redevelopment. And neither are us boaters.

You, the residents of Des Moines, always have been and always will be the primary users of the Marina floor. And yet, you were not surveyed as to what you want for the future of the land side. There hasn’t even been a town hall to allow the public to weigh in.

The City is saying directly, “the residents of Des Moines are not a part of this decision making.” That is outrageous.

And about those stickers…

Now the last sentence of the response would seem to indicate otherwise–that the City has done ‘community outreach’. Yes, that did happen. Four years ago. In 2017.

And if you were one of the 300 or so people at that event in 2017, on the fancy Argosy boat, you were asked to provide your input on a number of ‘design options’ using colored stickers to indicate your preferred ideas. Supposedly this would help decide what design ideas should be implemented.

OK, let’s assume that input from 300 people, four years ago, using some stickers, constitutes ‘community outreach’ on the biggest public project in City history. I don’t, but if you want to understand how much all those stickers contributed to the current planning? I’ll make it simple: nothing. From what I can tell, the current design is exactly the same as the original renderings.

Sum it up…

Again, I encourage you to read those questions and answers because it captures perfectly what is wrong with the City’s approach. The City has had a plan for land side development in place for many years and they’re going ahead with it, full stop. There’s no interest in obtaining current community support and very little hard data to support many of the planning assumptions. That’s not my opinion; it says so right in the document.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why so many public projects like this can feel so ‘inevitable’. Part of it has to do with the fact that it’s relatively easy to leave the public out of the process. But part of it has to do with the fact that a lot of things are hard to put into a sound bite. For example, I’ve had reporters ask me to give them a ‘twenty five words or less’ explanation of my objections to this process and I struggle. You need a certain amount of background to get it. This is as good as I can do for now. I know it’s an over-simplification, but you try to do better.

The docks (the waterside) are what needs fixing in about five years. But we blew all the money we set aside for updates so we can’t afford it. Now for many years, the City has had a plan to redo the land side, which is much more fun and will cost much less. So it is selling the idea that if we implement the land side plan now, it will somehow provide the ongoing revenues to pay for the docks later. In other words, we’re using the genuine urgency of the docks to ram through a decidedly non-urgent plan to redevelop the land side–with very little supporting data as to how much money it will bring in. A lot of the plan simply aligns with things that a small number of people have wanted for years rather than actual hard analysis.

Now, all that said, some of the individual ideas may well be very, very good. And I want to emphasize that. For example, the 223rd Steps portion makes perfect sense to me. Others, like a passenger ferry might be good ideas. But keep this in mind: the whole point is that all these ideas are supposed to pay for the docks. I am always skeptical when someone proposes that the things they already wanted to do perfectly align with the things that actually need to happen. And I think it would only make sense to get a second opinion from a completely independent source.

What keeps me up at night…

I’ll just close with the idea that keeps me up at night–and why I keep calling for more hard analysis and more community outreach before moving ahead:

In decades past, previous City Councils went all in on some ‘big ideas’ for ‘economic development’ that, in hindsight, now just seem like, What were they thinking? For Exhibit A I give you downtown Marine View Drive. Fifty years ago I’m sure that strip malls were a pretty easy sell for some developer. Now, we all have to live with those short sighted decisions.

I am all in favor of rebuilding the Marina, waterside and land side in a way that people fifty years from now will look back on with pride. The current plan has some ideas that may end up being great for Des Moines. But the process being employed to move them ahead is definitely not and I hope you will support me in my efforts to know a lot more before we plow ahead.

Weekly Update: 04/25/2021

Posted on Categories Airport, Marina, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation, Weekly Updates2 Comments on Weekly Update: 04/25/2021

Public Service Announcements

The delta variant is no joke! Fortunately, there are now free vaccine appointments available every day, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. The deadline to register to vote online is October 25. Voters can register and vote through 8 p.m. on Election Day at any of KCE’s Vote Center locations.

  2. Wednesday October 13, 6PM Aviation Town Hall with Rep. Adam Smith and 33rd District Sen. Karen Keiser and Rep. Tina Orwall!

  3. Wednesday October 13, 7PM On-Line Candidate Forum hosted by Yoshiko Grace Matsui and Jayme Quinn Wagner! (and to prep, you can watch last month’s Seattle Southside Chamber Of Commerce Candidate Forum!)

  4. he Utility Moratorium ended September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  5. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  6. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  7. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  8. We’re about to update our Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. Comment on any aspect of the system by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  9. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. Please read the Draft Master Plan and then my Marina Redevelopment Talking Points. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Send your questions and concerns to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  10. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  11. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  12. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  13. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  14. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

Last Week

Monday: Destination Des Moines. Planning their summer and fall events, which sounds like a lot of fun after the past year.

Tuesday: South County Transportation Board (SCATBd).

Thursday: Municipal Facilities Meeting (Agenda) There was a discussion of the Marina Redevelopment and and update on the passenger ferry.

Thursday: Economic Development Committee Meeting (Agenda) Marina Redevelopment and an update on the passenger ferry. No I did not accidentally hit Ctrl-V.

Thursday: Council Meeting Clerk’s Recap Agenda Packet Video The main order of business was something you did not see–an Executive Session involving an employee annual performance review. One is not allowed to discuss specifics of Executive Session, but there is only one employee that the Council reviews and it is the City Manager. And boy oh boy, I wish the public had seen it this discussion.

Century Agenda

I moved to amend the language on an item on the Consent Agenda involving a grant we received from the Port Of Seattle. The actual uses of the grant are fine. But I had a couple of problems with this thing: one having to do with process and the other with our City’s goals.

Process Matters

First: Our Council only sees grants after we win them and then legally the Council must vote to accept them. Our Council currently has no input in the application process or the language. So if one finds something objectionable in the grant, you’ve got two bad choices:

  • You can (maybe) go back to the grantor (the Port in this case) and beg them to redo the whole thing. That was the City Manager’s reply to my amendment.
  • Refuse the grant.

The City Manager was able to scoff at my amendment by ignoring the fact that there was no way for me to have objected earlier in the process. There should be at least some Council input on important grants during the application phase. The first time a Councilmember reads about the strings attached to a particular grant should not be at the acceptance phase.

Symbols Matter

In this case, the grant application mentioned that the City had previously shown it’s support for the Port’s Century Agenda–which is the Port’s list of big strategic objectives. Two of those goals are:

  • Double the number of international flights
  • Triple Air Cargo flights

Translation: More flights over Des Moines. More noise and more pollution. The official policy of Des Moines should never express alignment with those goals.

My objection to the language mentioning the Century Agenda was simple: it was unnecessary to obtaining the grant. All that was required was for the City to say that we were going to use the dough to increase tourism and economic development. Wonderful.

Hopefully, whoever filled out the form did it unintentionally–just to add a flourish to the application. But even if that is the case, it demonstrates a lack of policy.

Almost all arguments about not pushing back against the airport always come down to “We can’t do anything about it, so stop complaining!”

First of all, that’s untrue, but second and most important: symbols matter. Cities carefully structure the language of their official documents to show the public what they value–whether they can do anything about them or not. We discourage racism. We encourage various causes supporting the needs of women, children, seniors, veterans and many other constituencies. And we enact many proclamations to show our support of an array of goals where we in fact have no authority.

Now to effect any change, you need to start with simple, declarative sentences: This is what we want. How to achieve it comes later. But if you aren’t clear on where you want to go, you can never get there.

The SAMP ain’t just symbolic, pal…

This year, the Port Of Seattle is beginning work on the Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP) a plan to dramatically expand the number of flights at Sea-Tac Airport that very few residents are aware of. Each of the surrounding Cities has been and will continue to engage with the Port on your behalf to minimize its environmental impacts.

Increasing the number of flights would be bad for our City in any number of ways (health, property values, quality of schools, etc.), while providing only token benefits (a very few jobs, small grants like this.) Those are inarguable facts and we need to start educating the public a lot better because I know a lot of you believe otherwise. And when we as a City do anything that sends  an ambiguous message, it calls into question what your City actually believes.

Removing that one sentence about the Century Agenda may seem ‘only symbolic’, but symbols matter. We can’t create good policy if we don’t have a clear message ourselves. The public is often (understandably) confused as to how the airport actually affects them.

The Port is very clear about what its objectives in relation to Des Moines. So we must be equally clear about our objectives in relation to the Port.

The Minority Report (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of Councilmember Martinelli and my response to the State Of City presentation, published in the Waterland Blog last week.

This is the second half of our response to the April 15th State Of The City presentation. Part 1 discussed our objections to the way it was carried out. Here we’ll talk about some specific policy differences. For those of you short on time, you can follow along with this presentation packet.

As noted last time, one of the many ways the presentation was unusual was the fact that our colleagues were also presenters! That risks making our comments sound personal. We can also hear howls that we are somehow criticizing our great staff. Neither could be further from the truth. This is about policy, which is set by the Council and City Manager. The discussion stops there.

The big picture

Over the years, the number of Des Moines residents hasn’t changed much, but the composition has. Most notably, we are now younger and more diverse. Also, remember that the original City was very small and the current town is actually the result of many small annexations. But the majority of services and programs are still focused around that original core.

The City must recognize these changes and adapt to better address the needs of residents in all neighborhoods.

Challenges

In Part 1, we stated that the presentation was ‘all positive and no negative’ but at first glance a few slides imply otherwise. For example, Slide #6 showed an assessment of the City from a 1962 report outlining many of problems we still see today.

But far from (finally) offering some solutions, the message seemed to be that we just have to learn to live with most of these structural problems. We disagree. Most of these challenges come down to choices as much as ‘fate’. Governments decide which issues to tackle aggressively–and which to avoid.

The Past 5 Years

As Slide #7 states, the City is now on much better financial footing than after the 2008 financial crisis and our credit rating is now solidly competitive with comparable cities.

But what the presentation referred to as ‘diversified revenue streams’ actually means strategies like raising your utility taxes to the highest allowable rates. This disproportionately affects low and middle income residents and turns away businesses.

Balancing the books shows operational skills (good), but it does not automatically signal a long term strategy that benefits you or business.

Marina Redevelopment

The Marina discussion is being driven by the fact that the docks are at their end of life. This will be the largest and longest capital project in our history. But there is a separate discussion concerning the land side which is, unfortunately, being sold together as a ‘package deal’ and that is wrong.

To be clear: the Marina docks do require replacement and that work (and that work alone) should begin now. 

In 2017, the City installed a highly flawed paid parking system despite ongoing public opposition. That same year the administration held a single open house to gather public input on land side redevelopment. Four years ago. Last month, City Currents Magazine published a highly misleading editorial about passenger ferry service–with no vote or presentation to Council. And this month, the City finally unveiled its Marina redevelopment proposals, which appear identical to the renderings shown at that 2017 open house.

There is a pattern here: of poor public engagement, questionable decision-making and no transparency. The current majority is using the legitimate urgency of dock replacement to rush through a land side development with inadequate information, oversight or public buy-in.

The City should engage an independent professional to review any land side plans before moving ahead. We at least deserve a second opinion to confirm that we are headed in the right direction on such a large decision.

Economic Development

We are always happy to see new businesses in Des Moines. However, the essential challenges to the downtown and to all our business community are still not being addressed. Frankly, we have watched many small shops come and go over the decades and very few have been sticky. Almost none have leveraged more visitors to Des Moines.

We also appreciate the continued investment in Des Moines by Wesley and we look forward to their continued partnership. At the same time,  the City should be focusing economic development efforts far more on our increasingly youthful population.

We were far ahead of our colleagues in advocating for business grants at the start of the pandemic. The City responded too slowly, finally offering a program with no independent oversight. We gave over $500,000 to only 26 businesses located almost exclusively in our downtown. In fact there were hundreds of businesses throughout Des Moines completely unaware of the program. That was not only unfair and unethical, it’s just bad for business. All future business grant programs should be run independently.

Transportation

One thing to understand about transportation spending in Des Moines is how little of it there actually is. Almost all road improvements comes from highly competitive regional grants, currently limiting us to only one or two projects every few years. It may seem obvious, but the two best ways to fund more projects are to improve the business environment and increase our  presence in regional government.

The Community Connections Shuttle was a wonderful addition to Des Moines–five years ago. However, the majority of residents who need transit live in other areas–where services are poorest. We urgently need another such shuttle and we need much stronger advocacy for transit throughout the City.

Public Safety

We fully support our police department. In fact, we’d like to see more police deployed in your neighborhood. Although the administration refers to our department as ‘fully staffed’, the number of officers is now far smaller than in 2007.

We applaud the administration’s vocal support for police reform–such as adopting the #8Can’tWait campaign. However a recent letter of resignation from one member of the Diversity Advisory Committee raises concerns as to the City’s true commitment.

Parks, Recreation, Senior Services

The City groups several very important (and very different!) functions into one block called ‘human services’ and these are all undervalued. $175,000 out of a $24.5 million dollar general fund is simply not adequate–especially during a pandemic. Programs serving kids, seniors, families and people with special needs should never be outsourced.

We also acknowledge the recent work the City has done to improve places like Midway Park. But it is important to note that these upgrades began only after great volunteers laid the foundation. Currently, volunteerism for all City-related groups is at an all time low. We must do more to reverse that trend–including making the process much easier. It is volunteers who do so much to keep Des Moines running.

The Masonic Home

The Masonic Home is one of the most historically significant buildings in the entire state and has tremendous strategic potential. Yes, it has been problematic for years, but repeatedly the City chose to leave its fate to private developers–as if it were just another building. If and when a new opportunity appears we should be ready to provide every resource to support its rebirth as an economic engine for South Des Moines.

Sea-Tac Airport

The airport has been and will continue to be the single biggest threat to the City and its residents, having contributed to declines in our schools, property values and the health of our residents. Despite the public perception, very little of the airport’s money or well-paid jobs are in Des Moines.

The City has repeatedly made this situation worse for residents, publicly bemoaning the noise and pollution, while supporting the Port’s agenda in policy. Our Airport Advisory Committee resigned last year in frustration.

With little fanfare, Sea-Tac will soon begin a new expansion referred to as the SAMP. Unless vigorously opposed, this will add tens of thousands of flights over Des Moines.

There is a great deal we can do to improve this situation, but we must change our approach immediately.

In closing

This message is firm because the circumstances demand it. However it includes not only constructive criticisms but also solutions for improving our government and making your City better. In a letter like this, it is impossible to go into detail. But we welcome discussion of those details with both our colleagues and the public. It is offered to our colleagues and to all residents of Des Moines with sincerity and with absolutely no rancor.

It is our honor to serve Des Moines.

Councilmember JC Harris,
Councilmember Anthony Martinelli

The Minority Report (Part 2 of 2: Policy)

Posted on Categories Airport, Economic Development, Engagement, Marina, Policy, Public Safety, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation
This is the second half of our response to the April 15th State Of The City presentation. Part 1 discussed our objections to the way it was carried out. Here we’ll talk about some specific policy differences. For those of you short on time, you can follow along with this presentation packet.

As noted last time, one of the many ways the presentation was unusual was the fact that our colleagues were also presenters! That risks making our comments sound personal. We can also hear howls that we are somehow criticizing our great staff. Neither could be further from the truth. This is about policy, which is set by the Council and City Manager. The discussion stops there.

The big picture

Over the years, the number of Des Moines residents hasn’t changed much, but the composition has. Most notably, we are now younger and more diverse. Also, remember that the original City was very small and the current town is actually the result of many small annexations. But the majority of services and programs are still focused around that original core.

The City must recognize these changes and adapt to better address the needs of residents in all neighborhoods.

Challenges

In Part 1, we stated that the presentation was ‘all positive and no negative’ but at first glance a few slides imply otherwise. For example, Slide #6 showed an assessment of the City from a 1962 report outlining many of problems we still see today.

But far from (finally) offering some solutions, the message seemed to be that we just have to learn to live with most of these structural problems. We disagree. Most of these challenges come down to choices as much as ‘fate’. Governments decide which issues to tackle aggressively–and which to avoid.

The Past 5 Years

As Slide #7 states, the City is now on much better financial footing than after the 2008 financial crisis and our credit rating is now solidly competitive with comparable cities.

But what the presentation referred to as ‘diversified revenue streams’ actually means strategies like raising your utility taxes to the highest allowable rates. This disproportionately affects low and middle income residents and turns away businesses.

Balancing the books shows operational skills (good), but it does not automatically signal a long term strategy that benefits you or business.

Marina Redevelopment

The Marina discussion is being driven by the fact that the docks are at their end of life. This will be the largest and longest capital project in our history. But there is a separate discussion concerning the land side which is, unfortunately, being sold together as a ‘package deal’ and that is wrong.

To be clear: the Marina docks do require replacement and that work (and that work alone) should begin now. 

In 2017, the City installed a highly flawed paid parking system despite ongoing public opposition. That same year the administration held a single open house to gather public input on land side redevelopment. Four years ago. Last month, City Currents Magazine published a highly misleading editorial about passenger ferry service–with no vote or presentation to Council. And this month, the City finally unveiled its Marina redevelopment proposals, which appear identical to the renderings shown at that 2017 open house.

There is a pattern here: of poor public engagement, questionable decision-making and no transparency. The current majority is using the legitimate urgency of dock replacement to rush through a land side development with inadequate information, oversight or public buy-in.

The City should engage an independent professional to review any land side plans before moving ahead. We at least deserve a second opinion to confirm that we are headed in the right direction on such a large decision.

Economic Development

We are always happy to see new businesses in Des Moines. However, the essential challenges to the downtown and to all our business community are still not being addressed. Frankly, we have watched many small shops come and go over the decades and very few have been sticky. Almost none have leveraged more visitors to Des Moines.

We also appreciate the continued investment in Des Moines by Wesley and we look forward to their continued partnership. At the same time,  the City should be focusing economic development efforts far more on our increasingly youthful population.

We were far ahead of our colleagues in advocating for business grants at the start of the pandemic. The City responded too slowly, finally offering a program with no independent oversight. We gave over $500,000 to only 26 businesses located almost exclusively in our downtown. In fact there were hundreds of businesses throughout Des Moines completely unaware of the program. That was not only unfair and unethical, it’s just bad for business. All future business grant programs should be run independently.

Transportation

One thing to understand about transportation spending in Des Moines is how little of it there actually is. Almost all road improvements comes from highly competitive regional grants, currently limiting us to only one or two projects every few years. It may seem obvious, but the two best ways to fund more projects are to improve the business environment and increase our  presence in regional government.

The Community Connections Shuttle was a wonderful addition to Des Moines–five years ago. However, the majority of residents who need transit live in other areas–where services are poorest. We urgently need another such shuttle and we need much stronger advocacy for transit throughout the City.

Public Safety

We fully support our police department. In fact, we’d like to see more police deployed in your neighborhood. Although the administration refers to our department as ‘fully staffed’, the number of officers is now far smaller than in 2007.

We applaud the administration’s vocal support for police reform–such as adopting the #8Can’tWait campaign. However a recent letter of resignation from one member of the Diversity Advisory Committee raises concerns as to the City’s true commitment.

Parks, Recreation, Senior Services

The City groups several very important (and very different!) functions into one block called ‘human services’ and these are all undervalued. $175,000 out of a $24.5 million dollar general fund is simply not adequate–especially during a pandemic. Programs serving kids, seniors, families and people with special needs should never be outsourced.

We also acknowledge the recent work the City has done to improve places like Midway Park. But it is important to note that these upgrades began only after great volunteers laid the foundation. Currently, volunteerism for all City-related groups is at an all time low. We must do more to reverse that trend–including making the process much easier. It is volunteers who do so much to keep Des Moines running.

The Masonic Home

The Masonic Home is one of the most historically significant buildings in the entire state and has tremendous strategic potential. Yes, it has been problematic for years, but repeatedly the City chose to leave its fate to private developers–as if it were just another building. If and when a new opportunity appears we should be ready to provide every resource to support its rebirth as an economic engine for South Des Moines.

Sea-Tac Airport

The airport has been and will continue to be the single biggest threat to the City and its residents, having contributed to declines in our schools, property values and the health of our residents. Despite the public perception, very little of the airport’s money or well-paid jobs are in Des Moines.

The City has repeatedly made this situation worse for residents, publicly bemoaning the noise and pollution, while supporting the Port’s agenda in policy. Our Airport Advisory Committee resigned last year in frustration.

With little fanfare, Sea-Tac will soon begin a new expansion referred to as the SAMP. Unless vigorously opposed, this will add tens of thousands of flights over Des Moines.

There is a great deal we can do to improve this situation, but we must change our approach immediately.

In closing

This message is firm because the circumstances demand it. However it includes not only constructive criticisms but also solutions for improving our government and making your City better. In a letter like this, it is impossible to go into detail. But we welcome discussion of those details with both our colleagues and the public. It is offered to our colleagues and to all residents of Des Moines with sincerity and with absolutely no rancor.

It is our honor to serve Des Moines.

Councilmember JC Harris,
Councilmember Anthony Martinelli

Weekly Update: 04/18/2021

Posted on Categories Marina, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Weekly Update: 04/18/2021

Public Service Announcements

The delta variant is no joke! Fortunately, there are now free vaccine appointments available every day, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. The deadline to register to vote online is October 25. Voters can register and vote through 8 p.m. on Election Day at any of KCE’s Vote Center locations.

  2. Wednesday October 13, 6PM Aviation Town Hall with Rep. Adam Smith and 33rd District Sen. Karen Keiser and Rep. Tina Orwall!

  3. Wednesday October 13, 7PM On-Line Candidate Forum hosted by Yoshiko Grace Matsui and Jayme Quinn Wagner! (and to prep, you can watch last month’s Seattle Southside Chamber Of Commerce Candidate Forum!)

  4. he Utility Moratorium ended September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  5. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  6. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  7. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  8. We’re about to update our Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. Comment on any aspect of the system by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  9. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. Please read the Draft Master Plan and then my Marina Redevelopment Talking Points. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Send your questions and concerns to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  10. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  11. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  12. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  13. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  14. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Monday: Destination Des Moines. Planning their summer and fall events, which sounds like a lot of fun after the past year.

Tuesday: South County Transportation Board (SCATBd) No public agenda at deadline.

Thursday: Municipal Facilities Meeting (Agenda) There will be a discussion of the Marina Redevelopment (with questions from the public) and update on the passenger ferry.

Thursday: Economic Development Committee Meeting (Agenda) Marina Redevelopment (with questions from the public) and update on the passenger ferry. No I did not accidentally hit Ctrl-V.

Thursday: Council Meeting (Agenda)

Last Week

Monday: I attended the King County International Airport Roundtable. No, it’s not Sea-Tac, but we share the same air space and we need to work together on reducing the noise and pollution.

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission. I sent a letter on behalf of SeatacNoise.Info asking the Port to revise the Sustained Airport Master Plan (SAMP) in light of COVID-19. It is short and if you are concerned about the airport, I hope you will read it.

Wednesday: A presentation of the Marina Redevelopment Plan to the Des Moines Marina Association (DMMA). This will be their general membership’s first look at the proposal.

Thursday: I attended the Pacific Coast Congress Of Harbormasters Conference . The PCC is the big association that all west coast Marina’s belong to. Since this is our big marina re-development year, I thought it would be a good idea to check in and see what’s what.

Thursday: Environment Committee (Agenda)

Thursday: Transportation Committee (Agenda)

Thursday: City Council Study Session (Agenda) The topic will be State Of The City. If you wanna bone up on that, you can look at the version presented by the Mayor and Deputy Mayor last November at the Des Moines Marina Association.

A few words on utility taxes…

If we were being practical, our Environment Committee might be renamed ‘The Storm Water Public Utility Committee’ because functionally that’s 90% of what it does. We tend to think of ‘utilities’ as being separate governmental entities, but they don’t have to be. A city can run its own utility and in fact we do. The Environment Committee acts much like the Commissioners at our respective Sewer and Water Districts. (It would be worth a think to run the Marina in this fashion as well, but I digress.)

I dislike utility taxes because they are regressive (bad for you) and terrible environmental policy (bad for the world.) And that is because utilities are priced mostly based on usage which means that everyone pays the same based on how much they use. That sounds fair but actually? Not so much.

Years ago we stopped taxing sales on food because we recognize that $100 of food to someone making $2o,000 a year is a completely different thing from $100 to a person making $200,000 a year. The way we tax utilities has exactly the same unfair impacts on people. Additionally, many utilities encourage wasteful use because you pay a fixed amount regardless of your impact to the system and to the environment.

We bill you for storm water based on just a few very broad sizes of your property. It’s based on the idea that wealthier people have bigger houses. But since there are so few rates, it ends up costing most people the same.

The Environment Committee is going to decide later this year whether or not to raise rates because, just like the Marina, there is a lot of ‘stuff’ that is at or nearing end of life and we need to set aside money to pay for it. We can keep rates as they are and kick the can down the road a few year or we can ask you to bite the bullet now to keep us on schedule.

This conversation would be much easier for me if rates were set more equitably. The problem is that the current system has no way to adjust based on ability to pay. The first thing that probably flashed into your mind is keying it to income. The reason that doesn’t fly in small cities is at least partly administrative, but also it rubs a lot of people the wrong way to start connecting one’s 1040 to their storm water bill–even if it would save them some money.

The biggest tool the current management used to get us out of debt was utility taxes. I understood the concept, but such taxes are addictive–once they get started Cities find them almost impossible to kick. But on the other hand, we do need a certain amount of revenue to pay the bills.

In my opinion, one long term goal should be to re-examine the way we pay for all utilities; not just storm water, but everything, including internet. Utilities, by definition are, like food, necessary items. The City needs enough money to provide these services, but we also need to find a pricing model that is based on how the world works now.

Council Meeting: State Of The City

Clerk’s Recap Agenda Packet Video

See below.

The Minority Report (Part 1)

To the residents of the City Of Des Moines and to our colleagues on the City Council,

This letter is what would be called in State, Federal government, the Minority Report–the response from the party not in power to the April 15th State Of The City presentation. A minority report has become customary with the universal recognition that “State Of” speeches are largely political documents and do not provide an objective review of the strengths and weaknesses of the government. The Minority Report gives the public ‘the rest of the story’ and is an important part of a democratic process.

Many of us dislike thinking about ‘politics’ on our City Council. We don’t consider ourselves as part the ‘swamp’ often associated with state and federal legislatures. But politics is politics. The City Of Des Moines is a $100 million dollar corporation, with a complex government and the stakes are high. Especially in this election year where four seats and the majority are on the line.

We want to be thrifty with your time and attention so we’ll break this into two five minute reads: first politics, then policy.  Note that the majority took two hours to make their argument.

Thanks to our great staff!

First, we want to acknowledge that the presentation did contain some good information and we hope the entire public will watch it. Some of the items discussed are significant accomplishments. We supported these and actively contributed to several. It also highlighted some of the great work our staff is engaged in for all of us every day. We want to acknowledge their efforts and offer our deepest thanks.

A marketing presentation

However, this was unlike any ‘State Of’ speech  we have ever heard in that it was all positive and no negative. In fact it was simply a marketing presentation. Just to be clear: we always want to promote the legitimate accomplishments of our city to the greatest possible extent. However, there was not even a polite attempt to acknowledge any need for improvement or significant long-term risks. There are many of these and the public has a right to hear them discussed with candor.

No matter how glowing, every proper performance review includes that kind of discussion. It is one thing to put a positive spin on things, but a presentation called The State Of The City demands at least some sincere attempt be made to present a balanced picture.

Performance, not Study Session

If you do not regularly attend City Council Meetings you may have thought that the State Of The City presentation was the meeting. That is not accurate. This meeting was a Study Session, a legally separate type of Council meeting broken into two halves: learning followed by discussion.

But even if you knew that you still may have been confused because after a two hour presentation there was no discussion and not a single question. The reason for this, as you know from watching, is simple: the majority Councilmembers were also the presenters. (We wouldn’t have any questions either if we were actors in a scripted show!)

In short, this was not a Study Session it was a performance, pure and simple.

Public engagement…

Just as worrying, there was no comment from the public. The Mayor expressed amazement that no one had signed up to comment, at one of the most important meetings of the year, in one of the most important years in the City’s history. But he had no reason to be surprised: this lack of public participation has become the norm at all meetings and all forms of public engagement.

This lack of participation is partly a lack of awareness–and we can and should do a much better job of public outreach. The deeper problem is cynicism. Many of our residents now recognize from events like this that their voice is irrelevant. This combination of a lack of awareness and cynicism is toxic to good government.

Disagreeing without being disagreeable

The Mayor has repeatedly used the popular phrase ‘disagreeing without being disagreeable’ to express his laudable desire for a better working relationship on the Council. Perhaps it brings to mind something like this?

As we now know, many of the Founding Fathers actually hated one another. Somehow, they still managed to create the most enduring democracy in history.

It’s not quite as intense here. 😀 But historically, politics in Des Moines  has always been a bit messy–whether or not the public sees it. In every healthy government,  electeds will not agree on all things, all the time. And constructive disagreement can actually be a plus.

Though currently in the minority, a majority of voters elected us to represent you. So any presentation claiming to represent the State Of The City should contain our input.

Some improvements…

That said, we agree with the Mayor that we could work together more effectively and it is our hope to do so going forward. But doing so will require change, hard work and it will take time. We can begin by taking two small, but very significant steps towards making the State Of The City a much more balanced presentation.

  • First, these presentations should be developed with input from all seven Councilmembers; not only the majority. The last word may rest with the majority, but all voices should be given a meaningful place.
  • Second, if so desired, the minority should be provided an opportunity for a formal response. This could be given from the dais after the State Of The City or at the next City Council Meeting.

These changes are not about political ‘fairness’. The public needs to receive a balanced picture of our City.  But including the entire Council in this process and allowing for a minority response  would also send a powerful message to residents that their Council can work together and ‘disagree without being disagreeable.’

In closing

This message is firm because the circumstances demand it. However it includes not only constructive criticism but a simple and practical suggestion for improving our government and making your City better. It is offered to our colleagues and to all residents of Des Moines with sincerity and with absolutely no rancor.

It is our honor to serve Des Moines.

Councilmember JC Harris,
Councilmember Anthony Martinelli